Houston Community News >> MFAH Presents Korean Modernist Exhibition

12/26/2007 Houston—Tradition and modernist sensibility merge with poetic results in Where Clouds Disperse: Ink Paintings by Suh Se-ok, opening January 27, 2008 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The show presents 29 works spanning nearly 50 years by the prominent Korean artist who demonstrates that the ancient medium of ink can be adapted to create innovative abstract works. Where Clouds Disperse is the first major museum exhibition to focus exclusively on Suh’s unyielding approach to this medium. The show will be on view through April 20, 2008 in the museum’s Caroline Wiess Law Building, 1001 Bissonnet Street.

“This exhibition continues the museum’s initiative to bring a new emphasis to Asian art begun with the recent opening of the Arts of Korea Gallery,” said Peter C. Marzio, MFAH director. “In the new gallery, traditional works are presented with works by important contemporary artists, visually connecting those artists to their cultural past. In much the same way, Suh Se-ok’s work bridges the past and the present. And his personal history is connected to the new gallery through the work of his son, Do-ho Suh, who has been commissioned to create an entrance gate to the gallery. All of these elements move us toward a greater appreciation of Korean art.”

In his ink paintings, Suh Se-ok combines the elegance of traditional Asian calligraphy with the vigor of Western gestural painting. Each brushstroke, while responding to the previous stroke and advancing the composition, maintains its own pictorial weight and identity. Suh’s compositional strategies range from overall patterning to minimal gestures that divide the negative areas of the support in such a way that the handmade paper achieves aesthetic parity with the brushed line. In the painting Where Clouds Disperse, from which the exhibition derives its title, he empties out the center, the traditional focus of a painting, creating visual incident only at the sheet’s edges. Since most of the composition is unarticulated, the viewer comes to see the negative space, the “non-existing,” in Suh’s words, as an element of equal concern to the artist as the area of his active marks. Overall, the works in the show range in date from 1959 to 2007, with most being from the 1990s.

“Suh operates within the conventional framework of traditional tools, forms, and techniques that have been used by artists for centuries, yet he moves this system forward by seeking its inherent qualities through his work,” said Christine Starkman, MFAH curator of Asian art, who is overseeing the exhibition with Barry Walker, MFAH curator of modern and contemporary art and curator of prints and drawings. “The exhibition follows the development of his figurative structures from his initial inventive gesture with ink to the natural motif he established through repetition and rediscovery.”

About the Artist

Suh Se-ok (b. 1929) graduated in 1950 from the School of Painting, Seoul National University. His abstract ink paintings first attracted attention in the conservative Korean art world in the 1950s. Suh, a teacher and artist, founded the progressive Mungnimhoe, or Ink Forest Group, and encouraged other artists to break away from tradition and to incorporate abstraction and simplicity in their work. Suh’s work has been exhibited in Korea, the United States, Western Europe, and Brazil.


Where Clouds Disperse: Ink Paintings by Suh Se-ok is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Asian Art at the MFAH and the Growth of Korean Art at the MFAH

Asian art at the MFAH comprises works from China, Japan, Korea, India, and Southeast Asia. The objects cover more than 12,000 years, ranging from a Neolithic Jomon period (10,500-300 B.C.) Pot with Whorl Design from Japan to works of the present day. In 1982 the first Korean object, a magnificent porcelain Phoenix Jar, 17th century, from the Joseon period, entered the MFAH’s collection. The museum accessioned a second Korean object, a delicate Inlaid Celadon Bowl from the Goryeo dynasty, in 1985. The Houston Korean-American community, the Asia Society, and the museum partnered together in 1995 to acquire an important Kaya period Storage Jar from the 4th century. In the same year, a noteworthy bronze Buddhist Ritual Sprinkler (Kundika), 12th-13th century, Goryeo dynasty, was added to the museum’s collection. The growth of the Korean collection, in addition to an expanding collection of works from other Asian countries, prompted the establishment of permanent Asian galleries in 1997. This dedication to the arts of Korea and Asia was solidified in 2000 with the appointment of Christine Starkman as curator of Asian Art.

MFAH Collections

Founded in 1900, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is the largest art museum in America south of Chicago, west of Washington, D.C., and east of Los Angeles. The encyclopedic collection of the MFAH numbers more than 56,000 works and embraces the art of antiquity to the present. Featured are the finest artistic examples of the major civilizations of Europe, Asia, North and South America, and Africa. Italian Renaissance paintings, French Impressionist works, photographs, American and European decorative arts, African and Pre-Columbian gold, American art, and European and American paintings and sculpture from post-1945 are particularly strong holdings. Recent additions to the collections include Rembrandt van Rijn’s Portrait of a Young Woman (1633), the Heiting Collection of Photography, a major suite of Gerhard Richter paintings, an array of important works by Jasper Johns, a rare, second-century Hellenistic bronze Head of Poseidon/Antigonos Doson, major canvases by 19th-century painters Gustave Courbet and J.M.W. Turner, distinguished work by the leading 20th and 21st century Latin American artists, and The Adolpho Leirner Collection of Brazilian Constructive Art.

MFAH Campus

The MFAH collections are presented in six locations that make up the institutional complex. Together, these facilities provide a total of 300,000 square feet of space dedicated to the display of art. The MFAH comprises:

• Two major museum buildings: the Caroline Wiess Law Building, designed by Mies van der Rohe, and the Audrey Jones Beck Building, designed by Rafael Moneo
• Two facilities for the Glassell School of Art: one with studio spaces for children and another with studio spaces for adults
• Two house museums that exhibit decorative arts: Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens features American works, Rienzi features European works
• The Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden, created by Isamu Noguchi

Complementing the public exhibition spaces is a major on-site conservation center where artworks are conserved prior to presentation.

Hours and Admission

The Audrey Jones Beck Building is at 5601 Main Street. Hours are Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m.–9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.–7 p.m.; and Sunday, 12:15–7 p.m. The museum is closed on Monday, except for holidays. Admission to this exhibition is included with general admission to the museum. General admission is $7 for adults and $3.50 for children 6-18, students, and senior adults (65+); admission is free for children 5 and under. Admission is free on Thursday, courtesy of Shell Oil Company Foundation. Admission is free on Saturday and Sunday for children 18 and under with a Houston Public Library Power Card or any other library card.

MFAH Parking

The museum’s parking garage is in the MFAH Visitors Center, located at 5600 Fannin Street at Binz Street (entrance on Binz). Free parking is available in two lots on Main Street, at Bissonnet and at Oakdale.