DAVID COHEN, Editor           
       February 2004  

 

Su-en Wong
Shoshana Wayne Gallery
2525 Michigan Ave B1
Santa Monica, CA 90404

November 22 - January 31, 2004


By HEATHER TAYLOR

Su-En Wong Eve Green 2003
acrylic, color pencil on panel, 68 x 94 inches
Courtesy Shoshana Wayne Gallery

Walking through Su-En Wong's exhibition of eight recent paintings at the Shoshana Wayne Gallery in Santa Monica, California feels a little like visiting a colorful candy store. But in this candy store, the sweet sights and smells are accompanied by a mood of political discontent. New York based Su-en Wong was born in Singapore, a piece of biographical information, which, along with her gender, dominates her artistic project. Her work has been, and with this new group of paintings continues to be, about her complicated existence as an Asian woman in Western culture.

In this exciting group of paintings, Wong utilizes her favorite subject, herself, to visually critique, satirize, subjugate, and exploit stereotypes of Asian women as passive, pre-pubescent, and sexually objectified. Her paintings consist of multiple, nearly identical versions of herself, mostly naked, against monochrome candy colored backgrounds, which account for the paintings' corresponding titles, such as Shy Green, Sweet Sixteen Pink, and Blue Danube.

In one large-scale painting (68 x 94"), entitled High Noon, 2003, ten naked girls lounge on a rock formation, which floats in the saturated yellow background. The girls, oblivious to the rock's "Keep Off" sign, engage in myriad activities. Some interact with each other, one licks a lime green ice cream cone, one reads the March 2003 issue of Artforum, reminding us (as if we could forget) just how postmodern Wong's work really is. Wong functions as auteur and depicts her cookie cutter ladies gazing at each other seductively, as well as staring straight out of the picture plane, confronting on-lookers with their intense stares and come hither glances. In this way, she subverts the idea of Western art's traditional "male gaze" by intentionally putting her naked body on display and controlling all the subsequent sexual exchanges.

In another painting, Eve Green, 2003, three women playfully and erotically swing from the stems of larger-than-life orchids. With lustful expressions, they straddle these stems as if riding mechanical bulls. The richly colored pink and red orchids, hyperbolic vaginal references, pop against the solid background, an acidic yellowish green. The setting is a tropical Shangri-La, the kind of fantasy driven exoticism Westerners tend to imagine and associate with Asia. Again, Wong takes the stereotype and exaggerates it, making it impossible to miss.

Su-En Wong Sweet Sixteen Pink 2003
acrylic, color pencil on panel, 68 x 94 inches
Courtesy Shoshana Wayne Gallery

In each painting Wong creates an all Asian, all female, and all Wong fantasy world. When her work is clustered together in a gallery setting, this world is on view for the public to gobble up. Wong seduces us with visions of beautiful girls frolicking, reclining and strolling, plastered against a rainbow of colored screens. And then, amidst the seduction, we have a jolting revelation that Wong denies us access. She invites us to look and examine, but prevents us from going any further. This is Wong's world -- she creates and solely inhabits it. Starting to lapse into objectification of the subject, we are shut out. This critique will not be complicitious! In the end it is Wong herself, or the depiction of Wong on the canvas, who reminds us that she has secured her position as a master of turning the tables.

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