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Installation view of John Pai’s “Eternal Moment” exhibition at Korean Cultural Center New York / Courtesy of Korean Cultural Center New York

By Kwon Mee-yoo

John Pai's 'Involution' (1974) / Courtesy Of The Artist And Geoffrey Quelle

John Pai’s “Involution” (1974) / Courtesy of the artist and Geoffrey Quelle

The Korean Cultural Center New York (KCCNY) unveiled “Eternal Moment,” a retrospective of Korean American artist John Pai, in its newly opened Manhattan venue.

This exhibition, which runs until April 18, not only celebrates Pai’s six decades of artistic endeavor but also commemorates his significant role in bridging Korean and American cultures through art.

The exhibition showcases a carefully selected collection of Pai’s creations, spanning over six decades of unwavering commitment and artistic exploration, including everything from drawings and paintings to sculptures.

Pai’s distinctive choice of medium, copper-coated steel rods, speaks to the core of his artistic philosophy. Through steel, he found a balance between modesty and adaptability, crafting sculptures that reflect his resilient spirit and his belief in the transformative potential of art.

Each piece, formed by hand, represents a dialogue in space, resonating with the rhythms of life itself. Pai’s work, characterized by its intricate interplay of memory, myth and history, invites viewers to experience art as a form of silent communion, where each creation is a step in a journey without beginning or end.

“Working is like a private ritual. It brings me back to the idea of reaching a communion with a sense of silence, finding my way within and without it. I have no preconceived idea when I start working. I work and react to what I’ve done. I become comfortable with silence,” Pai once said.

Korean American Artist John Pai Speaks During The Opening Of 'Eternal Moment' Exhibition At Korean Cultural Center New York, March 6. / Courtesy Of Korean Cultural Center New York

Korean American artist John Pai speaks during the opening of “Eternal Moment” exhibition at Korean Cultural Center New York, March 6. / Courtesy of Korean Cultural Center New York

The show also includes personal narratives through excerpts from his oral history and an intimate cinematic portrayal, adding depth to understanding the artist and his work.

Born in Seoul in 1937, Pai moved to America with his family at a young age but soon found himself living alone in West Virginia as his parents returned to Seoul amid political upheaval. Pai was drawn to art from a young age, holding his first solo exhibition at the Oglebay Institute at 15.

Winning a scholarship to Pratt Institute in 1958, he initially studied industrial design but soon shifted his focus to sculpture. After earning his bachelor’s and then a graduate fellowship at Pratt, Pai taught at Parsons School of Design and Pratt. He eventually became chairman of Pratt’s undergraduate sculpture program in 1965, where he played a pivotal role in shaping the fine arts curriculum.

He resigned in 1974 to dedicate more time to his art, exhibiting his work in Seoul, Paris and New York. Pai also played a key role in supporting Korean American artists in the United States, particularly in New York, during the challenging periods between the 1970s and 90s, becoming a central figure in the community.

Pai took part in an artist talk on Wednesday, organized in collaboration with publisher Rizzoli, which released his monograph “John Pai: Liquid Steel” in October 2023, giving a glimpse into his artistic world.

KCCNY Executive Director Kim Cheon-soo said Pai is the ideal artist to inaugurate the new KCCNY building, noting his embodiment of the Korean diaspora.

“Above all, this exhibition seeks to reconnect us with the essence of humanity and artistry through Pai’s life and work,” Kim said in a statement.

“Pai embodies the spirit of a sincere and genuine artist in an age dominated by the rapid advancement of technology and the overwhelming presence of social media that blur the lines of authenticity.”

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