It was a coup for the Lux Art Institute. Last year, the up-and-coming Korean designer and sculptor Lila Jang signed a contract to be in residence at Lux for three weeks starting Jan. 12, 2012. It would be the first United States residency for the Korean-born, French-trained artist whose whimsical, furniture-inspired sculptures have become something of an Internet sensation.
Her art arrived at Lux earlier this month from Korea in shipping crates Lux had specially designed and constructed for her pristine, white velvet pieces. The work was installed in Lux’s studio and Jang was expected to arrive in San Diego on Jan. 9.
Except she didn’t. Nobody knows exactly why, although the reasons range from she didn’t want to travel alone to she had projects in Seoul that required her attention.
“I don’t know what happened,” said a disappointed Reesey Shaw, Lux’s director and founder. “She could show up here while we’re talking. It’s just not clear.”
When Shaw sensed trouble, as Jang was repeatedly unable or unwilling to provide the information needed for Lux to purchase her plane ticket, she started making phone calls. She had the art, but she needed an artist. The core of the Lux concept is having a working artist in residence.
Only a week before the exhibit’s Jan. 14 members opening, three San Diego artists agreed to do work that would play off Jang’s remarkable sculptures, which will remain on exhibit.
Paul Henry, a Carlsbad furniture maker who frequently exhibited at the now-defunct David Zapf Gallery, will be working at Lux during most of what was expected to be Jang’s residency: Jan. 12 to Feb. 4. He’ll be relieved by former UCSD professor Kim MacConnel on Jan. 19 and artist Jennifer Anderson from Jan. 26-28.
MacConnel’s furniture pieces were included a solo retrospective of his wide-ranging work at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in 2010, “Collection Applied Design.” Anderson, a UC Davis, College of the Redwoods and SDSU graduate, has exhibited internationally and has taught in institutions ranging from SDSU to The Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport, Maine.
“When Reesey called me, and told me the name of Lila Jang, it rang a bell but I couldn’t immediately remember who she was,” Henry said. “So I Googled her, and it turns out, her work is something I showed my class at Palomar last year as an example of somebody doing something that is, well, not exactly Rococo, but she’s twisting these things in a nice French manner.”
The point of departure for Jang’s work is 18th century French furniture — tables, chairs, desks and footstools — that seems to misbehave. In “Haenir,” an elegant, six drawer, Louis XIV chest, one of the drawers is elongated and droops down as if gasping for air. In “Anne-Marie,” the chair’s arm rests are blown up out of proportion, making it impossible to sit in the chair. In “Canape,” a sofa takes a 90-degree turn straight up a wall.
“The inspiration for her furniture came from when she was in graduate school in Paris and living in a teeny little apartment,” said Shaw. “Trying to fit even one piece of it in her apartment was impossible. So she visualized some of the furniture she was attracted to and how it might fit if she could only bend her sofa in half and have it go up the wall, or bend a chair so she could fit a table and chairs. I think it’s magical.”
Henry is also inspired by French 18th century furniture, and he expects Jang’s work will have a decided influence on the work he will build at Lux. He’s planning on creating a guéridon, a small table with three legs, made of basswood and myrtle burl veneer. It may not be as over-the-top as Jang’s pieces, but it won’t look like a reproduction either.
“I change my mind a lot, so I’ve done a lot of different sorts of work,” Henry said. “What I’m working with lately is sort of a French, sculptural approach to furniture, rather than an arts-and-crafts, very stick oriented approach. I’ve been trying to figure out how those guys in the 18th century did this sort of thing.”
MacConnel is expected to work on a chair, as will Anderson, who will make a piece that will be part of her “Material Series.” It is comprised of five chairs made out of wood (ash), bronze, wax, mud and grass. At Lux, she will be making the grass chair.
“I am motivated by the exploration of different materials and the different working processes they require,” Anderson said in a statement. “Redefining a material’s potential is as interesting to me as redefining an object’s purpose.”
Since Lux opened in November 2007, Jang is the 23rd artist-in-residence and the first one who has failed to materialize. She’s also the first non-English speaking artist Lux has contracted.
“I was bragging about the fact we were doing this, but based on this experience, I can tell you it’s really difficult and I’m not sure it’s a good idea,” Shaw said. “We’ll never know how much of it is her and how much is the language barrier.”
Shaw had engaged translators, both in communicating with Jang and for the residency, as the artist is required to interact with members, visitors and school groups as she creates her art.
“We were working with very sophisticated people, like the Korean department at (UC San Diego),” Shaw said. “We also have a Korean intern translating (the emails). We’ve been working on it for over a year. To get right up to the finish line and just not be able to close the deal (is frustrating)...
“It doesn’t make a bit of sense. I’m just scratching my head.”