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Essay written by Tom Moran, Chief Curator and Artistic Director at Grounds for Sculpture


“We are a landscape of all we have seen."

  -Isamu Noguchi


Jae Ko:  Force of Nature SHIRO

At first, Jae Ko’s monumental paper relief sculpture gently coaxes you into the brightness of the East Gallery.  The composition starts as a trickle then quickly overtakes your height.  You become enveloped by its spell, and your curiosity is engaged.   What you perceive is something magical and constantly changing in color, line, and form beyond the white paper of which it is made.  It is so large that your eyes sweep across the undulating surface, defying you to engage upon any one point for very long.  Your curiosity causes you to look across the 80’ long work from one end and back to the other, again and again, slowly, as you scan over the rolling undulations of this magnificent structure that reaches upwards in places to 14 feet.

Then, you discover that the further you stand back in space, the materiality of the work seems to change and even solidify in places.  How does this work composed of white craft paper produce so many ways to perceive it and how it changes?  How can tons of the material coiled in such a large mass appear at times to be ethereal, its sheer physicality seemingly to possess no weight of consequence at all?  The renowned artist, John McCracken, an affiliate of the perceptual art movement “Light and Color”,  characterized the phenomena of form and color this way, “An important thought behind this is that all things are essentially mental – that matter, while quite real on the one hand, is on the other hand composed of energy, and in turn, of pure thought. “ 1  - “McCracken” Kunsthalle Basel (1995) Ex. Cat.

In order to consider taking on the challenge of making Shiro, Ko had to first visit GFS and spend time alone pondering the massive 80’-long and 16’ -high articulated wall of the East Gallery.  Having traveled across the United States on many exploratory journeys, Ko has experienced some of the most dramatic landscapes and many have left strong impressions in her memory, that recalling the intricate variations of glaciers, their towering scale, the calving that reveals the inner structure of line and color and shapes, the vast expanse across the landscape, led her to choose white paper and to devise a way to construct the work which conveys so many subtle transformations of movement and color while maintaining a commanding presence in the East Gallery.  The opposing wall to the main installation features an extension of the Shiro theme, this time with elements climbing precariously then tumbling away, like the calving of glaciers, with the remnant sections floating on the glossy floor of the gallery. The great painter and teacher Hans Hoffman pondered an artist’s conveyance of reality in art in the 1930 issue of Art Digest, “The first and second dimensions include the world of appearance, the third holds reality within it, (and) the fourth dimension is the realm of the spirit and imagination, of feeling and sensibility…..the effect of reality in a picture is found not by copying nature but through the spiritual contact of the artist with nature expressed through a medium in its own language.”2  - Hoffman, Art Digest (1930)

Born in Korea, Ko grew up in Tokyo, Japan and received her BFA from Wako University.  Moving to the United States, she attended the Maryland institute College of Art where she received an MFA.  Settling in Washington, DC, Ko’s work steadily gained the attention of curators and galleries in the city and region.  Receiving Pollock-Krasner grant in 2002 brought even more attention.  The Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden added a wall piece to its permanent collection and Marsha Marteyka Gallery began exhibiting her work in its stable of prominent artists.  Soon enough, with her works in several major public and private collections, The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC mounted Ko’s installation of “Force of Nature” in 2012.  The work was created using large curls of brown craft paper, akin to the rolled white paper used in her installation of Shiro.  Ko has created “TITLE” made of the same brown paper in the East Gallery.   Perhaps one of the greatest honors of Ko’s career so far also took place in 2012 when she was awarded the prestigious Anonymous Was a Woman art award along with eleven other prominent American artists.

Ko’s paper sculptures on view in the Domestic Arts Building may be a bit smaller in scale than Shiro but are no less powerful in their intricacy and sensuality.  They are created by a process of soaking large rolls of adding machine paper in a bath of water infused with vibrant colors of Japanese inks derived from wood ash.  The resultant works form a silent, mysterious, and engaging presence in the gallery space. 

Force of Nature Shiro and the entire grouping of works featured in Selections, in turn demonstrate Ko’s own force and her reach into an entirely new visual language in paper and it’s seemingly endless limits as a sculptural material.



Simplicity is not an end in art.

  But we usually

 arrive at simplicity

 as we approach

  the true sense of things.

    - Constantin Brancusi

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