A Terrible Beauty

Young Sun Lim Makes Art of Life-Forms Struggling To Be Born

He became preoccupied with showing "the faces of death" in sculptures like Suicide by Throwing Oneself Down—a naked body that seems to be hurtling through the air. He created a bust of his grandfather in the throes of dementia and another of his sister, Astonished Woman.

This is still political work, but it's a politics of empathy, not dogma. He seems to feel that this connection is what's missing from his society. He told me, for example, that in Korea there is a particular word for others who are not your family and "we have less caring for others." So some of his pieces convey an empathy with the downtrodden outside his own circle. For example, he created a life-size motorized sculpture of a homeless man crawling on his stomach, following a moving spotlight but never quite reaching it. Another piece shows two naked men standing cheek to cheek, one holding the other's shoulder. They represent homosexuals, says Lim, who are outcasts in Korea. They have red eyes. Lim explains, "They're tired."

Lim pulls out the new Alice in Chains greatest hits CD, featuring another of his lost pieces on the cover—a man floating in a large cylinder, part of a series called "Wandering Spirits." He'd made four of these floaters. They resemble dead bodies pickled in formaldehyde but have an eerie beauty.

Art is often about such paradoxes, so it's no surprise that "The Room of the Host" is repulsive yet incredibly attractive. It's like the pain he feels for all his lost work. He was there when the fire began, and as he stood there watching everything go up in flames, he thought, "It's quite beautiful to watch it burn."

"The Room of the Host" continues at Liebman Magnan Gallery, 552 West 24th Street, through July 30.

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