Just before 24th Street slopes onto Third Avenue with its rumbling noise of the Gowanus Expressway is a something unexpected for this part of South Brooklyn: a white walls, contemporary art gallery. 210 Gallery is quietly nestled between the green spires Our Lady of Czenstochowa church and the Gowanus inlet industry that rises its smoke stacks before an almost clear view of the Statue of Liberty. Despite the gallery being just around the corner from my apartment, I’d never stepped inside, always being drawn away by the comforting siren song of my coffee machine and potential rest after finally making it home after working all day in Manhattan. But I’d glimpsed its small, yet intriguing, shows through the large windows, and finally paid the gallery a visit last Sunday.
210 Gallery has been open for over two years, just down the hill from the sprawling Green-Wood Cemetery in the neighborhood between South Park Slope and Sunset Park, sometimes referred to as Greenwood Heights, or brought under the identity of one of its two larger neighbors. Not only is there no gallery scene in the immediate vicinity, there isn’t even another commercial storefront on 210 Gallery’s street. Instead it is surrounded by residential buildings, the occupants of which frequently stop by to see the art and visit with owners Kumiko Uchida and Troyan Tecau. The couple established the gallery’s focus as non-objective, but make exceptions for artists whose work captivates them.
One of those artists, Sung Ho Choi, is currently having a solo show in the space. The exhibit, entitled The Sung Ho Choi, is framed on two sides by impressive panel pieces constructed of lottery tickets. At the end of the gallery is another lottery ticket piece, as well as an American flag completely constructed from rice and a grid of rejection letters Choi carefully lined with colored marker.
To say that Choi’s work must be time-consuming is an understatement. The meticulous creation of his work is right in line with the obsessiveness of artists like On Kawara. I couldn’t stop studying the perfect dots of glitter formed in the punched holes of used lottery tickets, then stepping back to see those patterns morph into a colorful landscape with glimmering animals. The presence of deer, turtles and cranes surrounded by trees, water and wisps of clouds suggested a depiction of the ten symbols of longevity, a traditional Korean motif of luck. The beautiful totems were constructed from cast-off, failed grasps at millionaire dreams; their glint coming from a cheap craft supply instead of gold.
Sung Ho Choi studied in Seoul, South Korea and later at Pratt Institute in the 1980s. In the decades since graduating, the Korean-American artist has been creating work that responds to the challenges in adapting to life in the United States. The hopes and disappointments of an immigrant’s experience are simultaneously visible in his work, which is breathtaking and heartbreaking at once. The themes could surely resonate with the surrounding neighborhood, which is anchored by several immigrant populations and filled with bodegas that offer instant millions with the scratch of a ticket.
There are two other lottery ticket pieces in the show, both just as impressive in their crafting, although falling short of the emotional impact of “Forever Young.” “Dreamscape” is a serene landscape made of shaded pointillist lottery ticket dots that, at a distance, could be mistaken for a 15th century scroll. “Mind Blind,” with its negative of the Chinese symbol for hope, lacks a bit of subtlety, but is a strong visual statement on the ritual and faith involved in buying lottery tickets.
Choi’s “America=rice country” is much more forthright: an American flag built from rice, the kernels suspended in heavily coated colors. The coy take on a Jasper Johns is as hard as a rock, as gallery owner Troyan Tecau demonstrated to me by rapping his fist against its solid surface. Tecau told me that the first iteration of the flag was plagued with rice weevils, so to keep future vermin from devouring the art Choi sealed the piece completely.
Like 210 Gallery itself, The Sung Ho Choi is unexpected: a thoughtful show in a location that’s almost a secret. Looking back on the gallery’s exhibition history reveals everything from a show themed around pigs to site-specific painting installations. 210 Gallery will be holding its next opening on November 5, and I’ll definitely be curious to see what will come next in this South Brooklyn art outpost.
The Sung Ho Choi will be at 210 Gallery (210 24th Street, South Park Slope, Brooklyn) until October 22.