Huy Bui, Sustainable Designer and Restaurateur, Debuts Intriguing New Sculptures in NYC

Apr 21, 2016 7:00PM

Huy Bui has been busy. He’s an entrepreneur, a sustainable designer, a restaurateur, and an artist who co-founded the An Choi Vietnamese Eatery on the Lower East Side as well as the collaborative Plant-in City project. Now, also in New York, he has his first solo exhibition at Patrick Parrish Gallery.

To properly understand “Geological Frame,” a show featuring a collection of geometric sculptures, you first have to know something about Plant-in City. It’s a collaboration involving architects, designers, and scientists who are all interested in devising new ways for people to interact with nature. “Plant-in City spawned from day-to-day modern urban living,” Bui has said. “We experience the wilderness outdoors, but much of our lives is spent indoors—our current focus is to improve that quality of life and bring a bit of nature inside.”

They do indeed bring that nature inside by building small, sculptural terrariums with embedded technologies—miniature stand-ins for what would be life-size structures in a utopian “Plant City” that’s both beautiful and functional. The pieces Bui made for “Geological Frame,” his new exhibition at Patrick Parrish, were designed to fit within that same Plant City; they can also be appreciated as standalone works.

These sculptures, framed with brass and partly filled with found wood, are sturdy yet delicate. And there’s a subtle sense of humor behind them. The idea of “framing” a log or a piece of petrified wood is an intriguing one: It suggests that these natural objects, though relatively common, are more precious than we typically realize. Thus, the implication is that a piece of wood can be a piece of art. However, like all the elements in Bui’s Plant City, the wood also has a practical function: Each piece reveals a micro-topography, and when they’re connected, they’re meant to form an aqueduct system in which water flows from one piece to the next.

It’s no coincidence, either, that each of the works in “Geological Frame” has a rectangular shape. The rectangle is a conventional shape, but, according to Bui, the simple form communicates deeper ideas about mass and lines, open and closed, figure and ground. A closer examination of Bui’s practice reveals his deeper interests in philosophy and aesthetics, with influences ranging from the I Ching to a radical architecture movement in 1960s Italy.

But you don’t need to understand all of that to appreciate the aesthetic and pragmatic value of Bui’s installations and how they’re part of a larger whole, particularly in the urban environment. When summarizing his own projects, from his restaurant to Plant-in City to his solo artistic exhibitions, Bui speaks about the reality of modern life and our efforts to cope with it. “Everything is centered around chaotic 21st century New York City life,” the artist has said, “and very much a result of an unspoken collaborative process.”

—Bridget Gleeson

Huy Bui: Geological Frame” is on view at Patrick Parrish Gallery, New York, Apr. 19–May 9, 2016.

Follow Patrick Parrish Gallery on Artsy.