Alex Paik: Stretto
Opening Reception Friday September 7th, 7-9pm
On view through September 22nd
Gallery Hours (beginning 9/1): M T F 1:30-6:30pm, Saturday 12-6pm
In classical music a stretto is when the subject of a fugue is repeated in close, overlapping succession, usually at the end of the piece. Similarly, Paik’s fugue-like modular wall installations focus on one shape or unit as its subject which is then repeated in different orientations as the piece is hung. The way that the units layer and form other compound shapes mimic the way a fugue’s subject is transposed, inverted, and folded into itself. His work explores ephemerality, reflected color, and repetition as a generative compositional process.
The title is also a nod to the many overlapping roles that Paik has as an artist, director of Tiger Strikes Asteroid, curator of Satellite Art Show, and chief curator at Trestle Gallery.
Alex Paik is a Brooklyn-based artist whose work has been shown at galleries and art fairs nationally and internationally. He is the founder and Director of Tiger Strikes Asteroid, a non-profit network of artist-run spaces; Curator of Satellite Art Show, an alternative art fair in Miami; and Chief Curator at Trestle Gallery, a non-profit arts organization in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
Essay by Heather Darcy Bhandari, 2018
“In visual perception, a color is almost never seen as it really is – as it physically is.
This fact makes color the most relative medium in art.” – Josef Albers
The first time I saw a James Turrell piece, I experienced wonder. It was the beauty, the feeling of being enveloped in light, and the simple fact that I could not believe my eyes. I am in this art world to push the limits of my perception and constantly remind myself that there are always new angles, perspectives, and voices to be considered and explored. After two decades, it is jarring and exhilarating when I realize there are still moments when I cannot trust my eyes.
Alex Paik plays with perception. His installations are understated and meditative—appearing to almost grow out of the wall and creep along its surface. Without Photoshop, slight of hand, lighting tricks, or gimmicks, we are absorbed in a layered world of geometry, color, and composition where we believe what we see. Until we realize that there is complexity and nuance in even the simplest and most basic of forms. Unlike Turrell, who requires engineers to construct a successful work, Paik uses humble analog tools such as paper, scissors, and colored pencils to delight and confound.
Paik’s practice is material-based and adaptive. The foundation is paper: fragile, bendable, foldable paper, subject to humidity and even breath. He chooses paper for its inherently malleable qualities, its egalitarian price point, and its ability to swell and transform in new environments. It is a flexible material, influenced by the elements and lightweight enough that an entire large-scale installation can be condensed into a tiny box. These qualities give each installation infinite potential. While there exists the melancholy that comes with site-responsive, temporary installations that will never translate exactly to a new space, there are endless possibilities for recombination and new life as the ingredients of one installation become the foundation of something entirely new.
Paik spends days cutting delicate strips of paper, which are then colored and folded into simple shapes: rectangles, hexagons, octagons, triangles, and the wonkier rhombuses. In this labor-intensive practice, Paik considers repetition, labor, futility, and purpose. But unlike origami or other paper-folding traditions, Paik’s folding does not work to create something recognizable or mark an important life event. His folded shapes rely on one another, coalescing to create intricate compositions and secondary shapes and patterns. They grow together into installations, elegant accumulations of these smaller forms.
Like barnacles, honeycomb, or other repetitive, organic organisms, Paik’s pieces function as a complex whole, the individual building blocks working together as one. This accumulation is what initially absorbs the viewer, for in many cases the sheer size of the piece is larger-than-life and the repetition implies growth along the lines of rapid cellular division. The titles reiterate the foundational shapes that form the composition, such as Right Triangle (Curve), but the complexity of form is optically confusing, as simple geometry is layered to create smaller shapes and disruptions in a harmonious monotony.
And then there is the color. The color! Trained as a musician, Paik’s experience with and knowledge of polyphonic musical structures, such as fugues, informs the work. Fugues—a complex style of musical composition developed in the Baroque period—are characterized by the interweaving of multiple voices. For Paik, color, shape, and shadow repeat, overlay, and coalesce into compositional harmony with quiet and loud moments, complicated and simple structures, bold and receding notes, as would a fugue. Just when you think you understand the composition, the growth, and the movement, you realize the solidity of Paik’s structures rely on illusion.
While Paik does color his paper, the pieces are never folded to create a “back” and “front,” but only “sides.” When held in one’s hand, away from the wall, floor, or ceiling, the individual modules are wispy lines that one can look through. They hold nothing. However, when placed against the architecture, the subtle color is reflected in masterful ways. The fragile lines appear to be solid forms, structurally sound. They appear to be vessels of color when, in fact, they hold no color. Their fragile sides are merely reflecting a combination of the light in the room and the subtle color from the paper. The pieces simultaneously reveal the limitation and incredible capability of our senses to perceive that which is not there; to assume solidity in the face of fragility and simplicity when there is great complexity.
Paik’s work connects with viewers because we instinctually understand repetition and organic growth. We’ve lived those concepts. Delicate lines appear stable and confident when situated next to hundreds of others. Soft, glowing colors welcome us. The ease with which we view his work allows for close examination and simple magic. It creates wonder. When we realize the effect is created through a skilled harnessing of light and pigment, we understand that Paik’s work is about beauty, while also urging us to take a closer look at the world and to question what we perceive.
Heather Darcy Bhandari is an independent curator, a co-founder of The Remix, an adjunct lecturer at Brown University, visiting scholar at NYU, and a consultant to several for-profit and nonprofit arts institutions. The second edition of her book, ART/WORK, was published by Simon and Schuster in October of 2017. She is on the board of directors of visual arts at Art Omi and the advisory boards of CODIFY Art and Trestle Gallery. From 2000 to 2016 she was a director of Mixed Greens gallery in Chelsea. Most recently, she was the Director of Exhibitions at Smack Mellon. Bhandari received a BA from Brown University and an MFA from Pennsylvania State University. Her career began at contemporary galleries Sonnabend and Lehmann Maupin.