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Wookjae Maeng
Form & Concept, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Recommendation by Amanda Malloy

Wookjae Maeng, "Hiding—Nyala," porcelain, wood

Continuing through December 23, 2017

“In order to thrive, [humanity’s relationship with animals] demands careful coexistence and balance between the urban and the natural … and empathy for less visible creatures,” says Korean artist Wookjae Maeng in regards to his current exhibition, “BALANCE.” The sculptures lining the walls of the gallery are like taxidermied trophies of creatures from another only marginally different world. While there is a certain amount of whimsy to the collection, there is also an unsettling quality to the golden-eyed animals on display. Some greet the viewer with calm, pleasant faces, but others are aggressive, almost accusatory.

Maeng explores the increasingly complicated relationship between animals and humans, forcing us to confront their effect on this complication. The forms are highly naturalistic, but just altered enough to ease the viewer into the artist’s dialogue. Many are completely white, with a subtle pattern grazing the porcelain. Some patterns have been painted onto the surface, and all of the animals have hyper-reflective gold eyes, so we encounter our reflection in the creature’s gaze.

Maeng creates even more abstract and altered forms, with some animals unnervingly molded together, or emerging from human heads which are mounted like trophies. Many of the animals have an aggressive bearing, for example the bighorn sheep and antlered deer, engaging not only our fear of the natural world, but expressing its power. Other animals are more docile; like the many pigs whose heads emerge from the walls. While the docile creatures are playful, they also reflect upon mass breeding and slaughter to create an empathetic connection with the viewer. Wookjae’s sculptures are delicious to look at, and emotionally affecting for their ability to explore our effect on the natural world.

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