The mythology of the male, but frozen in timelessness

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The mythology of the male, but frozen in timelessness

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It is the whiff of seductive myths, reminiscent of both the renaissance and contemporary eras, that make art of Steven Gontarski, the subject of an exhibition at the PKM Gallery in central Seoul, so alluring.
Gontarski, an American-born artist based in London, was born of a Korean mother and Polish father. The exhibition features 21 of his works, including sculptures, paintings, drawings and obelisks. Park Kyung-mee, the gallery owner, discovered the artist during the Arco fair, a contemporary art exhibition in Madrid, Spain, in March, 2005. Gontarski last came to Korea in 2004, to participate in a group exhibition at the Kukje Gallery.
It is his life-size, sexually-ambiguous sculptures that present viewers with skewed myths, such as “Prophet Doubt I,” a statue whose unformed body parts make it seem like a modern-day “David.” The glossy, human-formed sculpture, standing two meters (about two yards) tall, combines the natural with the paranormal. Its feet are toeless and the arms and legs are excessively long and thin. This “prophet” could be either a boy or a man. Standing naked, with a veil covering its face, its hands complete a bizarre gesture, with the right hand pointing to the ceiling and the left, faced down, presenting an object held between two fingers.
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“The Prophets and the Busts (the series of sculptures) allowed me to explore sculptural figuration and develop my ideas on mythology,” he said. “However, they aren’t depictions of any actual mythological characters. I’ve emphasized certain aspects of each sculpture and generalized other details. I wanted the viewer to be able to hang on to specific cues and project his or her own stories.”
The theme in Gontarski’s sculptures of a prophet or being who connects people to a higher realm expresses his concept of communication. “Although prophets can communicate a message from a higher realm, a healthy dose of doubt must accompany acts of faith,” he said. By covering the faces and closing the eyes of his creations, Gontarski hopes viewers will find their own truths.
All his sculptures are made of fiberglass, giving them a sleek, futuristic look. The artist said the material allows him to pursue “seamlessness” in his creations.
“I don’t want people to look at my work and see how I actually made it, I want it to seem as though it has always existed somehow,” he said.
Gontarski makes an equally rigorous effort to have his paintings and drawings look natural ― not something created by human hands, but rather something pre-existent. He said he uses oil paints and pencils to give his pictures “a certain level of luster or slickness.” His paintings are of male figures in color, but with minimal black backgrounds. Here as well, the apparent ages of his subjects seems to be unknowable, neither boys nor men. This uncertainty of an era or timelessness, combined with contemporary but androgenous male forms, is the framework of Gontarski’s concept of “zero,” which he said is both “the starting point and the end.”
His obelisks, one red and one black, on the second floor of the gallery are also titled “Zero Obelisk I and II” with the word “zero” painted on like graffiti. The artist called these “markers of zero.”
“In other words, I have chosen specific moments in an infinite continuum,” he said. “Zero represents nothing, a complete blank, but it also represents a very specific, designated moment, the point between positives and negatives, the center of everything.” The obelisks were made as memorials for two teenagers who died in a car crash in France in 2004.


by Cho Jae-eun

Steven Gontarski’s solo exhibition will run until April 8th. PKM Gallery is open daily except Sundays, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The gallery is located on 137-1 Hwadong in northern Seoul. The nearest subway station is Anguk station, line No. 3, exit 1. For more information, call (02) 734-9467 or visit www.pkmgallery.com.

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