oo: An Illustrated Conversation with Terence Koh
by: Kate Messinger
March 18, 2014
White may be the color of clean, the representation of purity and spirituality, and the symbol of nothingness, but beyond the cultural iconography and religious imagery of this anti-color, white is the reflection of everything. With his iconic all-white uniform, controversial artist Terence Koh has never been one to blend into the walls, pushing boundaries with performance and sculptures that teeter somewhere between irreverent and obscene, commenting on queer culture, fetishism, psychosis, and the legitimacy of the art world itself. After gold leafing his own feces in 2007, Koh became the quintessential representation of the shock art trend of the late aughts—though not necessarily for his artwork. Most of Koh’s sculptures are understated and conceptual, but nonetheless, his eccentric personality and bizarre YouTube interview series have made him a staple in the downtown New York art scene. Fraternizing with big name artists such as Ryan McGinley and Dash Snow, Koh reached celebrity circles after constructing an all white piano for Lady Gaga’s 2010 Grammy performance. However, in 2011, something in Koh seemed to change. The public figure exchanged his garish white furs for simple white pajamas, took a vow of silence, and circled a towering pile of salt for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. On his knees. For an entire month.
Some say the performance was an experiment in finding inner peace, others were convinced it was an apology for past behaviors. Either way, it was difficult to watch. Koh maintained his ability to shock, but this time it was the quietness that turned heads. The show at Mary Boone Gallery, titled “nothingtoodoo,” written in Koh’s unique double vowel vernacular, was a sudden (yet unsurprising for an unpredictable artist) shift into deep spirituality and ardent self-realization. Koh, who had always been the projection of all things colorful, was suddenly a clean white slate.
Since then, Koh has shown little work, stopped his video series, and retreated into his own white world. When we contacted him for an interview he told us, “I moved to the woods, the quiet, the soul inside,” and preferred to conduct the interview one question at a time, illustrating his answers and sending them back. It would be a conversation, a way to be intimate through the removed medium of an email interview. To Koh, it was a way to show himself without having to really show himself: “More and more these days it’s the interactions between humans that shood bee treasured.”
Portraits by Marco Anelli.