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Entertainment & Arts

Review: Art as a portal to Korean ancestors? The mesmerizing work of Hanna Hur

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“Signal ii” by Hanna Hur, 2017-2019. Watercolor, China marker and colored pencil on linen, 30 inches by 40 inches.
(Naoki Sutter-Shudo / Hanna Hur and Bel Ami, Los Angeles)

Hanna Hur’s paintings, drawings and sculptures at Bel Ami bend some of the most rigorous formal traditions in Western art to the service of spirituality inflected with Korean shamanism.

These delicate works use the languages of geometric abstraction, Conceptual art and Minimalism to create “gates” between our world and the spirit world. They are strikingly beautiful in their serenity.

The wall works are based mostly on a grid structure, within which Hur places circles, swirls and sometimes figures in pastel colors. The shapes create lovely, intricate patterns that feel decorative but also slightly irregular, betraying their painstakingly handmade creation. Executed in combinations of watercolor, colored pencil and graphite on linen, silk or paper, they also have a relatively light environmental footprint.

The austere, ethereal grids of Agnes Martin come to mind, and Hur’s works generate a similar expansive feeling. In the large painting “The Gate, ii,” a frame of circles in various shades of light blue encloses two vertical rectangles of white circles. Interspersed between the orbs, at somewhat random intervals, are smaller dots, some of which overlap the circles like a Venn diagram. I have no idea what this all signifies — Links in a chain? Cell division? — but the work evokes a mesmerizing sense of calm and wonder. What will arrive if we only stand in front of it long enough?

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“The Gate, ii,” by Hanna Hur, 2019. Colored pencil on canvas, 79 inches by 67 inches.
(Naoki Sutter-Shudo / Hanna Hur and Bel Ami, Los Angeles)

Hur, who is of Korean descent, traveled to South Korea to consult a mudang, or shaman, with whom she performed a seven-hour ritual to appease her ancestors. “The Wheel” is perhaps the most direct reference to this experience. Deviating from the gridded works, it depicts four figures floating around a wheel-like shape in the center. It’s unclear whether the figures are people performing the ceremony or visiting spirits, but the mood is definitely otherworldly. Executed on translucent silk that reveals the underlying structure of the stretcher bars, the painting itself feels like an apparition.

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“The Wheel” by Hanna Hur, 2019. Colored pencil on silk, 48 inches by 36 inches.
(Naoki Sutter-Shudo / Hanna Hur and Bel Ami, Los Angeles)

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Hur’s goal in creating these beguiling works is to welcome such ancestral spirits into our space. On the floor of the main gallery, like a mandala, is a large sculpture titled “Gate iii.” It’s made of tiny interlocking loops of copper and looks like an outline of a Carl Andre floor sculpture, sporting a chain-mail cape. It’s also a portal, it seems, constructed of interlinking circles. Hur’s repetitive processes serve as a kind of meditation that might connect her, and by extension us, to other realities.

Eight corners around the gallery are also adorned with vertical copper chains. Hur thinks of these as the legs of a giant spider, whose body hovers somewhere above us. Like tendrils from another reality, they’re a fanciful reminder of the ones we can no longer see.

Bel Ami, 709 N. Hill St., Suite 105 (inside Asian Center), L.A. Wednesdays-Saturdays, through July 20. (323) 533-5934, belami.info

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