The Mindy Solomon Gallery that opened recently in downtown St. Petersburg has big-city polish, and art to match.
This is the first gallery for Solomon, 45, but it has the look of a seasoned professional. Its 1,200 square feet look like more, thanks to expansive windows and ceilings that rise in some places to 34 feet. White walls, a polished concrete floor and tiger maple fixtures provide a sleek, noncompetitive backdrop for the art.
Solomon's inaugural show spotlights contemporary Korean ceramics with "Three from Korea" (which actually is more like six from Korea; she expanded her concept to include several more ceramicists and photographers).
This isn't our first meaningful exposure to the movement; "From the Fire," a large touring survey of contemporary Korean ceramics, came to the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg in 2006. That exhibition put an 8,000-year-old tradition into a modern context, showing us how living artists reconcile their venerable history with their desire for original creation.
Sung Jae Choi and Kang Hyo Lee, two of the artists in "From the Fire," are represented in Solomon's gallery. Their vessels line shelves on a gallery wall, beautiful and austere in their form and referencing classic Korean techniques. Choi covers the gray clay of his homeland with white slip, then "paints" on the surface with gestural marks that resemble a landscape and often include signature stylized ducks. Lee uses the onggi coiling method, then refines the shapes with a paddle. The glazes are especially beautiful.
I mention these two artists first because, despite their deserved reputations, they will inevitably be upstaged by the third artist of Solomon's triumvirate, equally fine but also far more flamboyant.
Sunkoo Yuh's sculptures are simply fabulous though they are not in any way simple. He treats delicate porcelain as if it's clay, forming fantastical stacks and clusters of people and animals held together by their sometimes serious, sometimes whimsical narrative purposes. Most of the animals — tigers, a pig, a monkey — are references to Korean zodiac symbols (similar to Chinese), but he also references Christian symbols. A fish, for example, is part of sculpture incorporating a Christ figure about suffering, death and redemption. There's also a lot of humor in some of them; one seems both cultural commentary and autobiography incorporating Coca-Cola, a baseball (the artist wanted to be a baseball player when young) and what looks like a cheerleader.
Yuh's creatures are also fantastically modeled, not quite caricatures, just very intense essences of personality with lovely, elongated hands and varied surface treatments. The glazes — sometimes 40 or 50 layers — give the sculptures a unique visual punch as well.
Solomon also has pieces by other Korean artists including photographer SunKwan Kwon, who works in large format and repetitive grids formed from portraits of people in mundane, anonymous situations — waiting for a bus or reading the newspaper in a library, for example.
This is Solomon's first gallery but she has been embedded in the arts for years as an artist, teacher and volunteer for various arts organizations. She and her husband, a physician, are also collectors and live in Clearwater with their four children. Her great love as a collector is ceramics but she wants to be eclectic in her exhibition schedule, which will rotate every six weeks. It's an ambitious enterprise with an auspicious start.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8293.