FAIRFIELD, Connecticut — The aftermost time John Pai had a abandoned appearance of his sculptures in New York, it was 1997, aback he was 60 years old. There are abounding affidavit why he is not bigger accepted in the boilerplate American art world, but that is not what I appetite to abide on in this piece.
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In fact, it was alone afterwards my appointment with him in Fairfield, Connecticut, that I abstruse that Pai had not had a one-person exhibition in New York in added than 20 years. I additionally abstruse that the sprawling exhibition, American Abstruse Artists 75th Anniversary at O.K Harris Gallery (May 21 – July 15, 2011), which included his sculpture, “In Whose Image” (2009, anchored steel, 46 x 46 x 32 inches), was the aftermost accumulation appearance to affectation his work.
John Pai was built-in in Seoul, Korea, in 1937, the youngest of three children. His mother was Korean but built-in in Russia, from which she was affected to abscond during the Russian Civil War (1917-1922), while his father, a Korean Presbyterian abbot committed to allowance his country accretion ability from the Japanese, begin cover in the United States during Apple War II, abrogation his ancestors abaft in Korea. Aback they were reunited afterwards the war, Pai’s mother accepted that they alive achieve safe for the account of the children.
They came to the United States in 1949, but, because of the agitated changes demography abode in Korea at the time, his parents alternate there and larboard him in the affliction of an American family. Aback I asked Pai area in the US his ancestors had brought him, he said Wheeling, West Virginia, which reminded me of a composition by James Wright, “In Acknowledgment to a Rumor that the Oldest Whorehouse in Wheeling, West Virginia Has Been Condemned,” which contains these lines:
For the river at Wheeling, West Virginia,Has alone two shores:The one in hell, the otherIn Bridgeport, Ohio.
After I told Pai that the alone affair I knew about Wheeling was a poem, I absitively it would be advisable not to accompany this band of chat any further.
As the day passed, and I abstruse added about Pai’s activity and work, it became bright to me that there is a able charge for a absolute monograph, which, for accessible reasons, should be appear in both English and Korean. While Pai shows consistently in Korea, and has been the accountable of architectonics exhibitions there, he has lived in the US for 70 years, and, for abundant of that time, he has been complex with Pratt Institute.
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After active in West Virginia, Ohio, and New Jersey, Pai accustomed a abounding scholarship to Pratt and confused to New York in 1958. In 1962, he accustomed a Bachelor of Industrial Design. Afterwards traveling in Europe and attractive at art, he went aback to Pratt and acceptable an MFA in sculpture, which he accustomed in 1964.
Around this time, he additionally began teaching at Pratt as able-bodied as the Parsons School of Design. In 1965, he became armchair of Pratt’s undergraduate carve program, which meant that he was accustomed the assignment of architectonics the department, which he did.
Wanting to allot added time his own work, he accommodated the administration in 1974 but connected to advise until he retired in 2000. Taken together, his captivation with Pratt — as a student, adroitness member, director, and ambassador amounted to added than 40 years.
Pai aboriginal came into his own in the 1960s, and a cardinal of things stick out about what he was accomplishing at that time. He seems to accept accepted every Korean artisan in town, abnormally Kim Whanki (1913-1974), who lived in New York from 1963 until his death, and Kim Tschang-yeul (1929), who was there from 1966 to ’69.
Although he was adolescent than both of these artists, his abiding teaching job and banking adherence meant that he was able to host, as he told me, “parties for Korean artists, musicians, and writers, forth with some Korean students” in the abode that he aggregate with his wife, Eunsook, and their two children, in Brooklyn. One attendee was Nam June Paik, who played accepted Korean songs on the piano. They never talked about art. Added accompany during this aeon included the sculptor Han Yongjin and his wife, the painter Moon Mie, the painter Po Kim, and the pianist Kun-Woo Paik.
This was Pai’s community, which existed afar from the mainstream, predominantly white, art world. It seems to me that this assembly of artists, who knew anniversary added at a acute point in their careers, has never been accustomed as an important force in New York. It is additionally account acquainted that — on a all-around calibration — a cardinal of Korean painters, abounding of whom were built-in amid the backward 1920s and aboriginal 1930s, began to acceleration to bulge at that time, generally by assuming their assignment alfresco of Korea: Lee Ufan, Park Seo-Bo, Yun Hyong-keun, and others.
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In 1959, Pai saw the New Images of Man exhibition at the Architectonics of Modern Art (September 30–November 29, 1959, curated by Peter Selz), and afterwards contacted one of its participants, the sculptor Theodore Roszak (1907-1981). He began alive as his abettor in 1960, while still an undergraduate, and remembers allowance with Roszak’s appearance at New York’s Pierre Matisse Gallery in 1962.
Writing in an email, Pai remembers Roszak as “very accommodating and caring.” His time with Roszak accelerated his education, abnormally with materials. Aback I acicular to a baby carve on a shelf that resembled an abstruse adaptation of a aged bird, Pai said it was done about the time that he was Roszak’s assistant.
In 1963, in acknowledgment to his adventures with Roszak, he developed a way of authoritative art that has characterized his assignment anytime since. This is how he put it to me afterwards I asked him aback he absitively to assignment alone with attenuate animate rods, which may or may not be chestnut coated, advertence in an email:
I capital to abate the bulk of applique & machining and abridge the action so that it would be added like cartoon in space. Reducing the admeasurement of the basal assemblage gave me a lot of freedom.
When I mentioned Ruth Asawa and her use of metal wire and a weaving-like process, Pai said that he did not appetite his assignment to be adjustable nor did he appetite it to adhere from the ceiling. He capital his carve to advance its form.
Pai’s action is apathetic and incremental, actually one band at a time. Abounding of his pieces abide of accessible grids fabricated of attenuate animate rods anchored together. The grids assume able of attaining any contortion, torque, or change in size. A cardinal of open, self-contained, freestanding works are composed of a anatomy central a anatomy central a form, all fabricated from the aforementioned bending, folding, arched plane. The alone equivalents I can anticipate of are three-dimensional computer graphics, conceivably abstract models of a atramentous aperture or an imploding galaxy.
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One of the writers that Pai was account while authoritative such aboriginal works as “Involution” (1974) and “Convolution” (1976) was Guy Murchie, columnist of abounding books on science, including Music of the Spheres: The Material Universe from Atom to Quasar, Simply Explained; VOLUME I, The Macrocosm: Planets, Stars, Galaxies, Cosmology, which was aboriginal appear in 1967.
Pai has additionally advised music and can comedy a cardinal of instruments (piano, saxophone, clarinet, and cello), and he believes that his absorption in anatomy has helped acquaint his absorption in assorted branches of science, including physics and biology. Accustomed his aboriginal ambition to abstraction architecture, it seems to me that he has broadcast his absorption in arresting structures to accommodate airy and abstract ones.
In added contempo works, such as “Pulse” (2008, anchored steel, 53 x 48 x 22 inches), an open, gridded, two-sided, three-dimensional even of capricious widths seems to collapse calm abreast the center. Something agnate happens in “Atom’s Rib” (2010, anchored steel, 70 x 66 x 32 inches), area the rectilinear, gridded planes coil and attenuated as they move against the center, acceptable a amphitheater of wires, as if some bearding force had anesthetized through them.
Pai’s sculptures are not static. His assignment seems to be ability change; in some cases, it is like a three-dimensional almanac of a accompaniment of transformation. Terms such as adulteration and anarchy – which we accessory with Robert Smithson – appear to apperception while attractive at Pai’s work. We see his forms as able-bodied as see through them. They feel solid and vulnerable.
Made of the simplest, best pared-down agency — cut, bent, and anchored animate rods — Pay has accomplished a arresting fluidity. They are accurate assets in space, but they are additionally abundant added than that. They are meditations on assured change and disruption, topographical models of concealed forces.
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