One of the readiest characteristics of Jae Hwa Yoo’s art has been its rugged informality. She has covered canvases with marks, scuffs, small notations, and other visual (and occasionally actual) detritus and then, in her large works at least, has hung them up unstretched or even plopped them down on the floor like worn, abandoned blankets. For the series she recently showed at LA Artcore Union Center, however, Yoo has ordered her painted objects into something that might seem superficially more conventional, but in actuality is as radical as any of her previous work. It just happens to be radical in an evidently structured way, exactingly formal and minimizing (without suppressing) the effects of chance.
One can regard these newer paintings of Yoo’s, tidily stretched and framed and with their markings clearly describing the motif of a square within a square within a square, as homage – direct in certain cases, indirect in others – to her sources and her forebears. She obliquely acknowledges minimalists and proto-minimalists such as Josef Albers, Sol LeWitt, and, most of all, Agnes Martin. She also recaptures the luminosity of light-and-space art in these pale, glistening canvases. But first and foremost, Yoo revisits the highly ordered minimalist method(s) of the Dansaekhwa painters. This important group of Korean minimalists, active as a group from the late 1960s until the early ‘80s (and as individuals since), has lately been coming to the attention of the West, with several important documentary and solo shows clarifying their historical significance. Yoo was influenced by Dansaekhwa before coming to Los Angeles, and with these paintings she recapitulates their reductive approach to painting and honors their retention of the traditional painterly plane – almost as a way of reclaiming the movement’s spirit for herself, however briefly and distantly, before it is engulfed in a global art history.
It would be unlike Yoo, however, to base a series of work entirely, or even predominantly, on such art-historical self-consciousness. She has produced these solemn, expansive paintings not simply to acknowledge the trajectory of minimalism, but to re-explore how its methods, at once rigid and self-effacing, can reveal a different facet of her own ongoing practice. Even as these new works seemingly deny Yoo’s tenet of informality, they reify, even amplify, her tenet of near-invisibility. As all her work does, this work treasures the mark as texture, as color, as location, and as rhythm, mapping a world of tiny events across a visual field. Only this time, the visual field faces us rather than fades from us.
Peter Frank New York June 2016