Art review: Todd Gray and Kyungmi Shin at See Line Gallery


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Based both in Inglewood and Ghana, husband-and-wife collaborators Todd Gray and Kyungmi Shin bring together American pop culture and African spiritual traditions in a loose, wide-ranging installation at See Line Gallery. Titled “Spirit Shack,” the work explores the fascinating nexus of celebrity and spirituality but unfortunately never quite gels.

The centerpiece is a ramshackle structure of wood and corrugated metal in which one finds a hat, an African drum and a typewritten script. These are artifacts from a performance (which I did not see, although segments are documented in a video) in which Gray played the drum and recounted stories of living with rock star Iggy Pop. Also inside the shack is a photo of Gray, his naked body covered in shaving cream. This motif is repeated in two wall pieces, in which the African American artist cut photographic images of his “whitened” body into curling, tentacle-like shapes. Interesting in their own right, the images are monstrous distortions, but also abstractions or even swirling clouds. The coating of shaving cream raises questions about race and visibility, but also refers to the makeup and masks that transform the body in African shamanic rituals.


Shin addresses ritual in two cartoonish sculptures: a vaguely African mask and the head of a deer-like animal lying in a pool of super shiny red “blood.” Both heads are covered in silver sequins, a gesture that recasts them as “bling” and links them to another work by Gray, a photograph of a similarly sequined Michael Jackson. The King of Pop’s face is irreverently obscured by a taxidermy boar’s head, a gesture that renders him both shaman and beast.The installation raises intriguing questions about the interplay of global media, African traditions, race and representation, but feels like the beginning of several investigations rather than a synthesis. “Spirit Shack” moves in many compelling directions but would have benefited from a deeper look into just a few.

-- Sharon Mizota

See Line Gallery, Pacific Design Center, 8687 Melrose Ave. Suite B274, West Hollywood, (917) 604-3114, through Sept. 10. Closed Saturdays and Sundays.

Images: ‘Spirit Shack’ sketch (top) and installation view. Courtesy of See Line Gallery. Photo credit: Kyungmi Shin.