June 2008 Archives

Ling Chang


I love Ling Chang. I've said it before and I'll probably say it again, and probably soon. I can't explain it. It probably can't be explained. Certainly I don't know her well enough to say something like that, but there I am, saying it. And it means this won't be an unbiased review of her show.

Of course none of my reviews are unbiased. I don't think unbiased reviews really exist. But in Ling's case it's going to be more unbiased than usual, I guess. I've noticed something interesting about me, though: People I like make art I like, and if I like the art, I like the artist. And the relationship is proportional: The more I like the artist, the more I like their art, and if I really don't like the art, whew, I can't stand the person who made it. This has even been tested sort of independently: There have been people I've met and sort of liked, then saw their art and didn't think it was very good; and then, as I got to know them, I found I didn't really like them at all. And then there are people like Tracy Helgeson, who I totally and unreservedly love, whose art I didn't really get to see for a long time, and when I did, it turned out I love it just as much as I love her.

There are a lot of possible explanations for this. Maybe I'm just incapable of separating my opinion of art from my opinions of people, and I fool myself into liking the art of people I like. Maybe there's some connection between the kind of art one makes and the kind of person one is. Maybe I'm an idiot.

I tend to think it's a combination of these.

Whatever the reason, the fact remains that I love Ling and so you have to think of that while you read this. Also, because we swapped e-mail while she was working on the pieces in the show, I have an idea of what she was getting at and what she wanted to include but couldn't because she didn't get everything done in time.

Ling Chang, installation view of The Curious Lore of Precious Stones, 2008

Ling Chang, The Curious Lore of Precious Stones, installation view, 2008.

Ling's show is called The Curious Lore of Precious Stones and it's at Realform Project Space in Williamsburg, as of this writing, for the next few days. Realform Project Space, it turns out, is a storefront window, one of those old-fashioned walk-in glass boxes, fronting a hallway with a number of hip, groovy stores opening off of it. This was my first trip to Williamsburg, I'm pretty sure, and I can see what people like about it now that the actual artists have moved out and the wealthy would-be bohemians have moved in. Ling wryly noted that the average age on North Fifth Street outside was about 25. The whole place is overrun with tits and tattoos.

The show consists of a fanciful collection of rocks of all kinds. Strange crystalline amalgamations rub shoulders with delicate fans of minerals. Polyhedra loll around spiky stars. Colored layers ripple off into dark crevices. And everything is arranged almost as you'd see it in a museum exhibit or maybe a New Age crystal shop. But if you look more closely, you see that the stones aren't ones you've seen before. In fact -- they're not even stones. They're...something else.

It turns out the entire show is made of Crayola Model Magic, a light, airy foam-like modeling material, in some cases painted, other times left white. Ling really likes this stuff. I think it helps her to get her ideas across without being so fussy; Model Magic can't really be molded in extreme detail, so it's something of an impressionist medium. And the impression is excellent. Ling's faux finishes are good enough to hold up under anything but the most careful scrutiny. Encased in Realform's glass cube, it's easy to mistake the show for an actual sales display.

Ling Chang, installation view of The Curious Lore of Precious Stones, 2008

Ling Chang, The Curious Lore of Precious Stones, installation view, 2008.

I asked Ling why she made things that were so realistic. I didn't mean to ask what was the point of doing something realistic, exactly. It was more like, what was her motivation to make fake rocks that look so much like real ones? I meant the question in a positive way -- "What's on your mind?" -- and not in a negative way -- "Why did you waste your time?" I think Ling took it as the latter, though, when she answered, "I guess when I was making them, I didn't think they were all that realistic. In fact I was worried that they'd look way too childish and crude."

Ling Chang, installation view of The Curious Lore of Precious Stones, 2008

Ling Chang, The Curious Lore of Precious Stones, installation view, 2008.

They don't. In the short time of the opening a number of people -- some of whom just wandered in off the street -- asked Ling about the piece and were surprised to find that the stones were entirely imaginary and hand-made. The book -- the only real item on the shelves -- being swallowed up by the Model Magic is a clue, but not one most viewers picked up on, apparently.

Dawn and Chris

My lovely wife Dawn, her new earrings, and me. Also, a lot of sweat from summer in New York.

My wife Dawn and I went to the opening together, which isn't normal for us, but then she doesn't usually know the artists I'm going to see. Dawn had met Ling when we were both at the School of Visual Arts and I think Dawn likes Ling almost as much as I do, so we went the extra step of getting someone to watch the kids while we trucked out to Brooklyn. While I was talking artspeak with some of the other people hanging around -- Lucy Gans and Les Fletcher, and David Gibson, the curator of Realform -- Dawn wandered off into the hip, groovy interior of the space and came back with a pair of earrings. Talk about your weird nights: My wife coming to an opening with me? And buying jewelry? If Dawn had told me she was leaving me for Jesse L. Martin I'd have been less surprised.

I know this review is going up late and thus really close to the closing of Ling's show, but you could do so much worse than rush out to Williamsburg to see this. The coffee shop just to the left of Realform makes really good frappuccino, too. Just in case you don't love Ling as much as I do.


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