So often, materiality in art comes down to an artist’s medium of choice. Are they a painter, sculptor, or digital artist? Li Tang Gallery’s latest online exhibition, “Materiality Unleashed” brings together a set of international artists who are reformulating how we approach and understand materiality. These artists allow this notion to guide their practices, rather than limit them. They experiment with how we see, feel, and experience a work of art, pushing the boundaries of materiality in its physical and conceptual forms. Brought together through a duo of guest jurists, Li Tang illuminates new meanings to the sensation of mediums, all while rebelling against the presumed restrictions of the two-dimensionality of the show’s virtual format.
To determine the artists in the exhibition, Li Tang’s team brought in Han Qin and Sun Young Kang to review the pool of applicants. Han Qin, a multidisciplinary artist with an emphasis on digital art, understands not only how art translates into virtual forms but also the relevant themes of home, relocation, and identity. Her own work explores how the intangible and emotional aspects of ourselves manifest in physical forms. With degrees in Printmaking from the China Academy of Art and an MFA in Digital Arts from Pratt University, along with countless awards and exhibitions internationally, she lends her unique perspective to compiling this portrait of materiality.
Capturing dimensions of space, Sun Young Kang’s work as a book and illustration artist uses materials to upend our presumptions of human nature. Born in South Korea, she spent time living and working in United States cities before establishing her practice in Western New York. Her prestigious career, from her time obtaining her MFA in Book Arts and Printmaking from Philadelphia’s University of the Arts to international exhibitions and honored award and grant recipients, provides an understanding of the tangible nature of materiality that complements Han Qin.
“While serving as a judge for this exhibition, ‘Materiality Unleashed,’ I had the privilege of observing an array of interpretations surrounding its theme. Among the participating artists, some chose to view materials as the very building blocks of their creative expressions, while others delved into the deeper metaphors and symbolism inherent in objects and materials. In addition, some explored the idea of materializing real but intangible entities, while others examined the impact of materialism on our daily existence. Seeing this wide spectrum of artistic approaches and thoughts in relation to the concept of ‘materiality’ proved to be a profound source of inspiration. The diverse works that explore and interpret materiality are dynamically fused together in this exhibition.”
– Sun Young Kang, Juror
To create the symbiosis and cohesion present in the show, Sun Young Kang and Han Qin had to review over 1,000 artwork submissions before selecting the final 25 artists. Their expertise stood up to the challenge, creating a seamless flow from three-dimensional sculpture to flat works of art. Through the space, an evolution unfolds from stark abstraction with thick paint application into plays of geometric forms that defy the limitations of our screens into figurative works that rethink concepts of materiality.
Works like “The Dusk” by Justin Archer, a sculptural piece made of basswood and acrylic paint, bring to life a portrait that exists between the terrestrial and digital worlds. The exposed wood, gritty and granular, joins together with a pixelated appearance. Archer places humanity at the intersection of the modern and the antiquated. 3-D printing and geometric abstractions combine with materials from historic practices, such as his use of basswood in connection with medieval tradition. The play of materiality obscures the perception of our reality in relation to our sense of time and culture.
What may seem unexpected in an exhibition focused on materiality are photographic works. Among them, Junghoon Oh presents pieces from his ongoing project “Unseen Echoes”. Flat by nature, the pieces are surreal reimaginings of the body. While a single image, the piece captures the movement of gestures. They are a blur before us, expressive and emotional. Here, materiality is not about the contours of the human form but about the embodiment of movement and the experience of temporal dislocation as moments of time exist simultaneously before us.
“This exhibition presents a range of artworks that reflect the contemporary experiences of globalization in the US. You will experience it, from many aspects including materiality, genres, and creative methods.”
– Han Qin, Juror
The multifaceted experience of “Materiality Unleashed” seeks to break the tethers that bind us to conventional comprehensions of life. In between the paint or the pixels, viewers are challenged to rethink a visual language of materiality. It allows us to question the ways the world changes around us, question how we experience belonging, and even question how we understand our sense of self. Li Tang Gallery successfully expresses the power of medium and material to instigate a tactile and visceral experience, even in an age of screens.
Exhibition is currently on view at www.litanggallery.com.
Review by Shannon Permenter
Shannon Permenter is a freelance writer and art historian based in Arizona. After completing her Master’s in History & Theory of Contemporary Art from the San Francisco Art Institute, she has channeled her passion for the arts into a career helping artists, curators, and nonprofits share their work with the world.