Terence Koh @ Peres Projects

by Travis Jeppesen on June 3, 2009

Those of us who have watched Terence Koh’s meteoric rise with grotesque fascination have always wondered how the inevitable obverse process would measure up to the hype spectacle. His current exhibition indicates that the fall will be swift and dismal.

Koh is showing a single sculpture, Boy By the Sea, a work that featured in a performance of the same title that took place at last year’s Yokohama Biennale. The sculpture, a miniaturized likeness of the artist sporting bunny ears, was carried totem-like by a mini-procession of loin-clothed young men and placed in front of the sea, at which point each of the young me stepped forward and tossed a single pearl into the ocean.

At Peres Projects, Koh has placed the sculpture on a wooden pedestal in the furthest room from the entrance. The sculpture is at the back of the room facing the wall, and is covered with a white transparent cloth. A second, empty pedestal stands next to it.

Like much of Koh’s sculptural output, the work is slight and inconsequential. One of Koh’s fumbling attempts at a signature is his usage of an array of materials, many of them perishable, which tend to give his sculptures their rough, crumbling appearance. (This has notoriously been a touchy subject for collectors who have paid extortionate sums for Koh’s work only to have it fall apart in the living room.) Here, fish scales, faux pearls, and pigments of white powder are among the substances tossed off. The wooden pedestal is artfully split in a few places, as though someone had jumped up and down on it a few times. There is no viable tactility to the piece; it is neither smooth nor rough – just a clumsy stab at a unified whole. Although some critics have struggled to articulate Koh’s haphazard usage of unusual media as a sign of the artist’s virtuosity, I can’t see it as anything more than a total lack of sensitivity towards his chosen materials.

Regardless as to whether your focus is on the whats or the hows, there isn’t much going on in Koh’s sculpture. Then again, the illusion that Koh has anything significant to express can only be understood as a symptom of the excesses of the Bush era. Koh’s highest achievement to date is his persona – this, rather than the work, has always been his fans’ focus. Figures like Koh satiate an audience obsessed by the glamour and decadence at the high end of the art spectrum, but care very little about the actual art. Painfully aware of his own limitations, Koh actively discourages us from taking a closer look, shining blinding light in our faces, as in his untitled installation at the Whitney, or covering the object of contemplation with a white cloth and turning it ashamedly towards the wall, as in this current Boy. It’s only a matter of time before the fantasy of Terence Koh’s artistry crumbles, in concert with much of his work. Before that happens, perhaps Koh will make good on one of his countless cynical assurances that he intends to retire from art altogether. From Boy By the Sea, one gets the feeling that he has already given up.

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