National Museum of Asian Art Announces “Do Ho Suh: Public Figures”

First New Sculpture To Be Displayed Outside the Museum in Three Decades, Ushering in Museum’s Second Century
March 14, 2024
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Sculpture of small figures in a row raising flat stone above their heads.

Do Ho Suh (b. 1962, South Korea) “Public Figures” (detail), 1998–2023, Jesmonite, aluminum, polyester resin. Credit: Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Seoul and London.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art presents “Do Ho Suh: Public Figures,” a sculpture by contemporary Korean artist Do Ho Suh commissioned to celebrate the museum’s 100th anniversary. The monumental plinth will be unveiled April 27 and installed on the museum’s Freer Plaza for five years, facing the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

First presented as part of Public Art Fund’s 1998 exhibition “Beyond the Monument” (Brooklyn, New York), “Public Figures” challenges the notion of heroic individualism and the stability of national narratives. For the work, Suh created a plinth for a monument; however, its imposing form is not a base to support a heroic figure or to mark a particular historic event, but rather a massive weight held aloft by many small, individualized figures caught in mid-stride. Prominently placed in the center of the United States capital where it will be visible to some of the 25 million visitors to the National Mall each year, the commission dovetails with the global movement to rethink the role of the monument.

The unveiling of “Public Figures” marks the culmination of the National Museum of Asian Art’s centennial celebrations. In 2023, the museum honored its 100th anniversary with a yearlong series of events and programs that deepened public understanding of Asian art and cultures and their intersections with America. Ushering in the museum’s second century, this will be the first new sculpture to be displayed in front of the building in over three decades.

“Suh’s monument will prompt visitors to ask questions—about individual and collective identity, whom we memorialize and why,” said Chase F. Robinson, the museum’s director. “‘Public Figures’ is an embodiment of our museum’s commitment for our next 100 years: to serve as a resource for learning, reflection and collaboration. It also reflects our deepening engagement with the art and culture of Korea, which we have championed since we first opened our doors in 1923.”

Drawn from his shifting experience of the idea of “home,” his work explores how objects make tangible the power of place and memory. Internationally recognized for his large-scale installations, Suh was among the earliest contemporary artists whose work was featured at the museum. His site-specific work “Staircase-IV” was exhibited in 2004 as part of the museum’s “Perspectives,” a series of exhibitions focusing on the work of leading contemporary artists from Asia and the Asian Diaspora.

“Suh’s interpretation of the idea of a ‘monument’ resonates in the center of Washington, D.C., where so much of the city is dedicated to commemorating figures and events from all over the world,” said Carol Huh, associate curator of contemporary Asian art at the National Museum of Asian Art.

Korean Art Initiatives

Presented with support from the Korea Foundation, “Public Figures” is part of a larger initiative to raise the profile of Korean art and culture in the National Museum of Asian Art’s galleries, programs and public spaces. In 2023, the museum opened “Park Chan-kyong: Gathering” (through Oct. 13), the first solo museum exhibition dedicated to the Seoul-based artist in the United States. Since its founding as the Freer Gallery of Art, the museum was one of the first in the U.S. to display Korean art. Today, it cares for close to 800 Korean objects; the entire Korean collection can be viewed online.

The National Museum of Asian Art has established an endowed curatorial position in Korean art and culture, thanks to a matching gift from the Korea Foundation; the selection announcement is forthcoming. The curator will contribute to the design of a new annual celebration of Korean art and culture that will coincide with the mid-autumn festival of Chuseok and expand the museum’s engagement with the Korean and Korean American community. With the growing prominence of Korean culture across the globe, the museum has increasingly shared its historical art collections alongside Korean popular culture in programming featuring film, food, music and performance.

About the Artist

Suh (b. 1962, Seoul, South Korea; lives and works in London) works across various media, creating drawings, film and sculptural works that confront questions of home, displacement, memory, individuality and collectivity. Suh is best known for his fabric sculptures that reconstruct to scale his past and present homes and studios in Korea, Rhode Island, Berlin, London and New York. Through form, architecture and materials, Suh reflects on the metaphorical and psychological dimensions of public and private spaces.

Suh earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in painting from Seoul National University before moving to the United States, where he would receive a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from Rhode Island School of Design in 1994 and a Master of Fine Arts in sculpture from Yale University in 1997. Solo exhibitions of his work have recently been organized at National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh (2024); Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney (2022); Buk-Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul (2021); Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles (2019); Victoria & Albert Museum, London (2019); and The Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn (2018), to name a few.

Credit 

Support for this exhibition is provided by the Korea Foundation.

About the National Museum of Asian Art

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art is committed to preserving, exhibiting, researching and interpreting art in ways that deepen our collective understanding of Asia and the world. Home to more than 46,000 objects, the museum stewards one of North America’s largest and most comprehensive collections of Asian art, with works dating from antiquity to the present from China, Japan, Korea, South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Islamic world. Its rich holdings bring the arts of Asia into direct dialogue with an important collection of 19th- and early 20th-century American works, providing an essential platform for creative collaboration and cultural exchange between the United States, Asia and the Middle East.
Beginning with a 1906 gift that paved the way for the museum’s opening in 1923, the National Museum of Asian Art is a leading resource for visitors, students and scholars in the United States and internationally. Its galleries, laboratories, archives and library are located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and are part of the world’s largest museum complex, which typically reports more than 27 million visits each year. The museum is free and open to the public 364 days a year (closed Dec. 25), making its exhibitions, programs, learning opportunities and digital initiatives accessible to global audiences.

For more information about the museum, visit www.asia.si.edu and follow updates on Instagram: @natasianart, Twitter: @NatAsianArt and Facebook: @NatAsianArt.

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Jennifer Mitchell

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David Yu, Sutton
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