Daily Art Moment: Sang-Ah Choi

Sang-Ah Choi (Korean, active United States, born 1971), All you can eat—Holiday everyday, Transcontinental flower and bird painting: NY to OR, Rainbow, 70 x 128 x 7 inches, mixed media. A photograph of three wide, white horizontal shelves each containing a different assortment of objects against a white wall. The top shelf holds stuffed animals and plush toys representing holidays beginning with Valentine’s Day: three teddy bears, a pink frog, a Tigger and a dog. Next is Easter with six stuffed rabbits and teddy bears with bunny ears. Five bears and a dog in red, white and blue representing the Fourth of July are followed by five plush toys representing Halloween pumpkins and witches. A turkey and pilgrims represent Thanksgiving. Finally, five toy penguins, snowmen, dogs and a Santa represent Christmas. The middle shelf holds fourteen highly detailed and layered paper dioramas. They show highways intersecting, billboards, fast food and hotel signs, along with state birds and highway markers. The bottom shelf holds an array of breakfast cereal boxes arranged according to the rainbow. They stand side by side, facing front and begin with Lucky Charms (red), continuing on to Fruit Loops (red-orange), Reese’s Puffs (orange), Mini Wheats (light orange), Honey Comb (deep yellow), Cheerios (yellow), Apple Jacks (green), Apple Cinnamon Cheerios (green), Cookie Crisp (blue), Rice Krispies (blue), Frosted Cheerios (deep blue), Frosted Flakes (deep blue), Multi-Grain Cheerios (purple), Raisin Bran (violet). 2 and 3. Each diorama is structured like a tall box sitting on end with the front and top removed. Inside, cut out shapes depict various things: overlapping roadways, highway signs, billboards, state birds and flowers and vehicles. The shapes are composed of heavy paper or cardboard and are layered to achieve a three-dimensional effect going from low in the front to higher at the back of the box. The shapes are brightly colored and solid or black cut out outlines of the object they depict. Each diorama is crammed with images so close inspection is necessary to discern which state is represented.

“Sang-ah Choi’s installation ‘All you can eat—Holiday everyday, Transcontinental flower and bird painting: NY to OR, Rainbow’ chronicles the artist’s cross-country road trip from New York to Oregon. As a foreign-born American, Choi’s installation reflects the dissonance in understanding the American landscape and culture through consumption and excess. An installation of three shelves, the top shelf displays an arrangement of stuffed animals and plush toys lined up in chronological order by holiday. On the lower shelf, cereal boxes are organized in a rainbow spectrum. The middle shelf presents a more complicated and layered expression of the cultural disparity experienced by Choi. Intricately and densely made, each pop-up diorama, inspired by the boxiness of a McDonald’s Happy Meal package, details Choi’s road trip. Each state is represented by a state bird and flower and further layered by the actual road trip itself—a landscape of highways, motels, chain restaurants, gas stations, and road signs.

Additionally, Choi incorporates the traditional Korean format of Ship-jangsaeng (십장생, Ten Symbols of Longevity), originally a Daoist expression of the wish for a long and healthy life represented all from nature: sun, mountain, cloud, water, rock/stone, crane, deer, turtle, mushroom, and pine tree. These motifs, shown in a cartoon-like illustration, weave playfully throughout the entire panoramic scene. Encountering a new culture shifting through impressions of the great American stores and wide-open roads, Choi wrote of the experience: ‘Being a foreigner in a different culture was an overwhelming yet exciting experience for me. At first, I thought the language was the only challenge since I felt that I had been exposed to American pop culture in Korea throughout my upbringing. But soon, I realized the cultural ramp-up is a long process—knowing it is not the same as living it.’ “

Grace Kook-Anderson, The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Northwest Art

Sang-Ah Choi (Korean, active United States, born 1971). All you can eat—Holiday everyday, Transcontinental flower and bird painting: NY to OR, Rainbow, 2007–2012. Mixed media. Museum Purchase: The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Endowment for Northwest Art and the Northwest Art Council, 2013.66.1a-fff © Sang-Ah Choi

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