All things considered in Wonne's work.
Bay Area Living, May 15, 2000
FOR Mirang Wonne, space is everything. When the installation artist from Atherton designs her works, she takes into account the characteristics of the gallery or museum space where they'll be exhibited. She considers ceiling height, whether there's natural or artificial lighting, the texture of the walls, and even the room's general atmosphere.
"I was really worried about this space," the confident artist with black short-cropped hair says of the Manor House Gallery, where her show closes today. The Manor House, a Belmont mansion built by Bank of California founder George Center just after the 1906 earthquake, is now home to the San Mateo County Arts Council.
Wonne was unsure how her pieces would work with the mahogany-stained walls or the relatively low ceiling in Manor House.
On the other hand, the artist had little trouble transforming San Francisco's Pacific Heritage Museum gallery into a showcase for her patinate copper works.
Her current exhibit there, a show with artist William Wareham, is called "Redefining Space and Gallery: Works in Metal, Paper and Paint."
Wonne's medium is almost exclusively copper, which she buys in industrial-size rolls. She brushes, spills and splashes the metal with different acids. Each acid, or combination of acids, produces different colors depending on temperature, humidity and the exposure time before Wonne neutralizes the chemical.
The acids are toxic and require some knowledge of alchemy, which Wonne acquired through research on acid color "recipes."
"The end result is very beautiful," says Wonne, whose work ranges from groups of canvas panels to sheets of copper suspended from the ceiling with wires.
But the centerpiece and continuous theme in her work is the rock.
These are sculptures not made from ordinary stones or marble, but loosely-constructed models of rocks made from cardboard and mulberry paper and wrapped with painted thin copper sheathing. In "Redefining Space," the rocks are on the floor, mounted on walls and wrapped with copper.
Wonne has obsessively studied the rock as a metaphor for several years.
"I hope to transform the idea of the rock into a temporal shape," the 50 sh Korean-born artist says. "I see this form like life itself. When life seems molded in one uniform way, it can, in fact, be beautiful in other, different ways and constantly change."
Her fascination with rocks has also morphed into a new study — boxes.
Introduced in a show earlier this year at Villa Montalvo, and further explored at the Manor House exhibit, these "presents" are organic-looking hollow cubes varying in size and color and are inscribed with English and Korean words such as "tree" or "awesome."
"The concept of half-wrapping or half-unfolding boxes is" very intriguing to me," says the artist, who moved to the Bay Area in 1984 when she marred her husband, Won Choe, a Silicon Valley computer executive.
"As if you are waiting for surprises. Could they be Pandora's boxes?"
The couple has two children, Scott and Julia Choe, who attend Hillview School in Menlo Park.
Though for seven years Wonne has confined most of her work to her studio — first in Redwood City and now in Hunters Point in San Francisco - she is no stranger in the art world.
As a teen-ager in Seoul, Wonne won a full scholarship to study in France, where she eventually earned a doctorate in aesthetics at the Sorbonne in Paris and had several installations there.
She later moved to New York City where she worked for an upholstery designer painting fabrics.
"(Fabric) design is not the same as art, but it is not really far from the fine arts," she says.
Raising her family took her away from her art, but now she is back and ready to make a name for herself in the Bay Area art world, which she has found arduous but not impossible to penetrate.
"San Francisco has a very old (art) establishment," she says. "There are only a few young, open-minded people."
Even though Wonne has sold a number of her smaller pieces to museums and private collections, installation art such as Wonne's isn't as marketable as other media. She says the size and nature of her works make them difficult to sell.
"People often don't have the height, or space to enjoy it," she says.
"But I feel very lucky that I can work as an artist without having to sell my pieces."
Sandy Staggs, staff writer