Jean Shin has a knack for transforming the mundane into the beautiful. Collecting discarded objects from daily life—old clothes, broken umbrellas, worn-out shoes, out-of-date eyeglasses—she uses a labor-intensive process of dismantling, alteration, and reconstruction to breathe new life into them. This Korean-American artist makes sculptures and installations from items that once embodied a sense of comfort, hope, or, at the very least, practicality. Her materials often retain memories of the human body (worn leather shoes that have molded to someone’s feet), the marks of particular events (an umbrella battered by a violent downpour), or note an absence (a lone sock left behind in the clothes dryer). Shin transforms the leftovers of our lives into a visually arresting explosion of form, texture, and color.
Just as Shin’s installations give new life to old forms, architect Michael Maltzan’s innovative design for the lobby of MoMA QNS reinvented a Swingline Staple factory in Long Island City into the location of the Museum’s temporary home in Queens. For Projects 81, Shin has exploited the quality of Maltzan’s seamless architecture as a site that encourages a physical encounter with art. Taking advantage of the potential for a unique enclosure, she has created a site-specific installation in the passageway leading toward the galleries—the artery through which all visitors to MoMA QNS must pass to enter and exit. In this enclosed hallway Shin has made a mural and a corresponding hanging sculpture out of donated work clothes she has gathered from MoMA staffers. She first deconstructed the garments by cutting out their seams, then flattened the resulting cutout shapes and wallpapered them along the walls of the passageway. In counterpoint to this colorful, textured mural are the garments’ missing seams, which hang above, extending the ceiling plane so that visitors walking through the passageway are surrounded by the installation. The artist encourages visitors to pause within the fluidity of Maltzan’s design, heightening their experience of it. Shin makes Maltzan’s QNS thoroughfare vivid, transforming the architecture into an intimate environment that brings the art into close proximity with the viewer, weaving together architecture and sculpture.
With Projects 81 the artist suggests that the reality of MoMA QNS is far from seamless. In fact the installation speaks to the impossibility of seamlessness, creating beauty through dislocation, highlighting a network of fragments and fractures and reworking them into an assemblage that only makes sense when seen as an aesthetic whole. Given the collective nature of the process of donating these garments, they come to represent the variety and diversity of the Museum’s staff. Guards’ uniforms, a curator’s pants, the Director’s oxford shirt—amid the codes of appropriate work wear in the institution’s different departments, a sense of individualism emerges, with flashes of bright color and pattern. Yet the continuity of Shin’s undulating arrangement of color and shape allows us to see the garments as one piece, a collective portrait of the MoMA workforce. Projects 81 renders visible the Museum’s large staff and hints at the diverse individuals who make up the institution, many of whom go relatively unseen by the public.
Projects 81 responds to a particular moment in the history of The Museum of Modern Art when the institution is in flux. As the Museum’s newly constructed and renovated buildings are nearing completion in Manhattan, Shin’s project speaks to a sense of optimism and regeneration. At a time when the Museum lies on the threshold of a new phase in its history, it is only fitting that her project for MoMA reworks the old into the new.
Organized by Eva Respini, Assistant Curator, Department of Photography.