ON THE VERGE: THE IMPERFECTIONIST
A Shortlist of What We Like Right Now
By T Magazine
Nov. 17, 2017
On the Verge: The Imperfectionist
Though they reference ancient masterworks, Steven Young Lee’s ceramic sculptures are tailor-made for our cultural moment, when venture capitalists and elementary school children alike are encouraged to “fail upward,” embracing defeat as an essential stumbling block on the road to success. The 42-year-old artist creates handmade porcelain vessels endowed with fatal flaws. Nips and tears in the clay cause his beautiful pots, once fired, to fold over or collapse inward, their delicately glazed surfaces punctured like dreams of perfection come undone.
The son of first-generation immigrants from Korea, Lee, who is based in Helena, Mont., became interested in exploring the limits of porcelain while in graduate school. Like Japanese kintsugi (the centuries-old art of mending cracked pottery with resin and powdered gold), his work transforms defects into merits. His major influences include asymmetrical Korean storage jars created during the Joseon dynasty (1392-1897), pieces that move him, he says, because they bear the traces of “what they’ve gone through in order to survive.”
This month, St. Louis’s Duane Reed Gallery is bringing six of Lee’s deconstructed vessels to the Context Art Miami fair and, next year, his work will be featured in a group show at Peters Projects in Santa Fe alongside pieces by Ai Weiwei, Ken Price, Betty Woodman and others. “Sometimes, when the work is exhibited, I get a pretty visceral reaction from people — ‘Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry, that’s terrible,’ ” he says. “I hope it challenges them to think about the way they assign value to things.”— LESLIE CAMHI