PLATEAU, just around the corner from City Hall in central Seoul, reopened in May with a new name and a new outlook on its position in the contemporary art world. Once known as Rodin Gallery, it originally opened in 1999 to serve as a permanent resting place for a pair of Rodin bronze casts: The Burghers of Calais and The Gates of Hell.
Like a layer of sedimentary matter, neither here nor there but always fluctuating in both composition and expression, PLATEAU intends to highlight art’s role in the natural order of the world, stimulating dialogue that reinterprets both traditional and contemporary perspectives. ‘My Way’, its current exhibition, is a mid-career retrospective of Jean-Michel Othoniel’s artistic oeuvre. ‘My Way’ offers a wide selection of works ranging from photography and film to grand sculpture, including Othoniel’s iconic glass beads.
Glass, one of Othoniel’s choice mediums, flourishes within PLATEAU’s open space. The brilliant jewel-toned pieces in the primary sculpture hall receive ample light from the surrounding frosted windows. Bathing in a sea of brightness and glowing in striking contrast to the looming Rodins, Othoniel’s oversized glass beads hover above the viewer with a tremendous static energy. Though fragile and poetic, they evoke a certain sensuality that transcends their spherical simplicity. Curvaceous on a grand scale, they have an inherently suggestive appeal.
In addition to these more recent glass works, the artist’s earlier liaisons with wax, sulphur, and phosphorous are all present at PLATEAU, offering visitors a complete idea of the sort of metamorphosis Othoniel has undergone during his career. Though the interiority of this transition, one wrought with diversion and mutation, is readily experienced through visual contact with a variety of topics, mediums, and scales, the more tactile approach of one work in particular seems to resonate most intimately with the viewer.
Othoniel’s 1995 work, The Wishing Wall, feels worlds apart from glass pieces such as Lacan’s Knot. First exhibited in Berlin, the large phosphorous-coated wall serves as a sort of demarcation between the artist’s early career and his current aesthetic. Essentially, viewers are invited to strike the wall with a matchstick and make a wish as the flame ignites. The mark left behind serves as a scar, a physical reminder of not only the wish, but also of the state of fragility that it represents: the human condition. The wall, covered with thousands of scars, is a beautiful testament to both our weakness as individuals and the unity of our cause, our hopes and our fears.
It is a wonderful feeling to stand in the shadow of The Wishing Wall at the exhibit’s end, hands warmed, half in a daydream. PLATEAU has succeeded in presenting Othoniel’s works in their best light, and further, has provided visitors the opportunity to visit a realm where fantasy reveals the true nature of reality. Though we may be small, we are not made of glass.
‘My Way’ will run through November 27. Closed Mondays. www.plateau.or.kr