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  • Source: The New York Times
  • Date: February 10, 2007

Brimming From a Ray of Light, the Glare of Elusiveness

Terence Koh at the Whitney Museum

Terence Koh’s untitled piece beams through the lobby of the Whitney. Credit Librado Romero/The New York Times

Terence Koh’s untitled installation at the Whitney, his first solo museum show in New York, is a one-liner in the form of a bright light (a very, very bright light) projected across the lobby, near the elevator bank, of the museum. A guard in dark sunglasses, like the Whitney’s own Secret Service agent, prevents visitors from getting too close and warns against looking directly at the beam. If he’s a bit testy, who can blame him? Standing there all day must be like having to stay in one of those interrogation cells where the lights never go off. I watched for half an hour or so as visitors mostly walked by, barely pausing or not bothering to notice, their passing bodies briefly turned white by the glare.

This event is advertised as an “epilogue” to a show Mr. Koh did last year in Zurich, as if to explain or enhance the experience, which of course it doesn’t. That show was much more elaborate, and full of objects, to judge from a video of it I found on the Web.

Beijing-born, raised in Canada, now in New York, Mr. Koh, at 29, is one of the rising, globe-trotting stars of the art scene, having first gained attention for a Web site and zine called Narcissism is his métier, queer youth culture a starting point, his goal a luxurious, sometimes rather melancholy decadence that alternates with minimalism.

Mr. Koh makes diverse objects, installations, sound pieces, murals and performances. His works refer, more or less cryptically, to odd rituals, cult practices, sexual subcultures and loads of art history, which he cribs freely. Generally the work is either black or white, literally. Much indecipherable prose of the sort that often passes for art criticism and analysis (see the show’s catalog) has come to surround him, along with the attributes of celebrity.

He’s talented. I recall his igloolike contribution to the 2004 Whitney Biennial. And he has a lively, allusive imagination, not that you could tell from this installation. Perhaps there’s something meant here about race by virtue of the white light, or about fame by use of the spotlight, or maybe Mr. Koh is trying to reverse the effect of the contemplative spaces of light artists like James Turrell. The catalog mentions black holes and supernovas, evoking “desire and loss, pain and hope,” which sheds no light whatsoever. Alas, the work is a gimmick and annoying. It’s all light but no heat.

The installation is on view through May 27 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Avenue, at 75th Street; (212) 570-3676.