Our national art consciousness has long had at least a vague sense of contemporary art (and a few individual artists) in Asia. Japanese and, more recently, mainland Chinese artists have been part of America's collective art conversation and, typically, California leads the way: MOCA presented a Murakami retrospective a few years ago and Ali Weiwei's giant bronze animal heads were displayed at LACMA.
But even on the West Coast, few art viewers have a handle on present-day Korean art. In a small but pointed way, the Pacific Asia Museum has taken steps to remedy that deficiency.
The second leg of a projected four-part series focusing on emerging Asian artists is now on view at the Pasadena museum. "Constructed Visions: New Media from Korea" brings together four artists working in digital media. Though it's a very narrow sampling (just five pieces occupy the room off the permanent gallery), a somewhat consensual aesthetic considers flexible realities.
"We wanted to present a range of artists in Asia and expand the notions of what contemporary Asian art looks like," said curator Bridget Bray, who recently assembled the fine Tomo-Oka show at PAM. "For this show, we wanted to explore similar themes that address different perspectives on time and space and environment."
Atta Kim's "On-Air Project 160-13" is a large color print of a busy street, shot in a long, time-lapse exposure. The commerce-laden storefronts on either side of the street are relatively stationary, yet the road is one amorphous blur of action. Stillness sits side-by-side with fierce movement. The familiar signage (Nokia, Timex, Samsung, Nike) links the place in the image to many global cities.
"This show," Bray contends, "was a great opportunity to realize that geography is something of an accident. Whether artists live in California, New York or Asia, they all live and work in their specific environments and respond to them."
A first glance at Minkyung Lee's "Home for Everyone" is of a contemporary Western living room replete with entertainment center, sofa, an Eileen Grey chair and a TV. In fact, it's a collage of images, carefully pieced together and made to look like one. Lee has tranquilized the crazy-quilt interior of its antecedent: Richard Hamilton's 1956 pop art milestone, "Just What is it That Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing?"
"There's a flattening effect," Bray explains, "that occurs with these pieces, and they connect us all at some levels. Atta shoots his photos in New York, Paris and Delhi, leapfrogging the globe but using his own interpretation of different environments."
Myounge Ho Lee's "Tree #1" is a stark image of a centered tree on a hill, albeit backstopped by a large, blank canvas. And "The Sink Room" by Minkyung Lee is a simple stark image that entices with depth-of-field devices and superimposed fragments. Both dance with the question of what is real and what is not.
"I spent a great deal of time talking with and listening to the people at the opening of this show," Bray says. "The range of opinions and questions that I heard was very wide. That's the great pleasure of assembling a show like this — getting informed but still curious responses from the public. As curators, it's our privilege to see where these artists take us."
Could the works presented have been made by artists from any other industrialized country? Possibly. And maybe that's the point: If anything is to be learned from this grouping, it's that technology has brought the world much closer together, yet there are still nuances of nomenclature distinct to all of us.
Where: Pacific Asia Museum, 46 N. Los Robles Ave., Pasadena.
When: Through Nov. 24. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
More info: (626) 449-2742, pacificasiamuseum.org