Peep show

An exhibit that brings out the voyeur in everyone.

SEX, OR THE RESTRICTIONS on sex, have been such a domain of women artists in the '90s—think Tracy Emin's list of bed mates—that we sometimes forget that men are also often confused and stifled by the thing between their legs.

Yi-Chul Shin's "Seoul Decadence: Framed Voyeurism" consists of some 40 ceramic pieces, accompanied by several encaustic (wax-covered) paintings. Some of Shin's sculptures look like plants, some like human genitalia, and still others, covered in short black spikes, like medieval weapons. They are all surrounded by press-molded cages, which are ridged and as thick as fingers but leave the enclosed forms in full view. Finished in a light green patina, they are anything but demure: The pieces suggest swollen glandes—open petals, ripe fruit. Untitled #30, for example, shows long, leaflike folds about to part. It's Georgia O'Keeffe in three dimensions.

Seoul Decadence: Framed Voyeurism

Howard House through February 26

Like many ceramic artists, Shin finds himself up against Korea's conservative attitudes toward modern sculpture. "People expect pots and vases when I tell them that I'm a sculptor," Shin said in a recent interview. It's particularly telling that when Shin showed a ceramic installation at Seoul's National Museum of Contemporary Art in 1992, he became the first sculptor ever to exhibit at the prestigious venue.

The 35-year-old Shin, who lives in Seoul with his wife and two sons, says that he experienced a culture shock when he first came to America in 1993. Suddenly, he was a foreigner, a "dust mote" in the large metropolis of New York City. He subsequently moved to Seattle to pursue an MFA at the UW. Still, he felt bewildered by the differences between Korean and American culture, and often he felt like an observer, a voyeur, in his new home. Similarly, Shin turns us into observers of his sensual art. The cages let us look, but not touch—and one piece, Untitled #29, an empty, heart-shaped cage, seems to suggest that just looking isn't enough.

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