March 26 – May 29, 2016
Organized by Dan Miller
Curated by Dawn Grayford, Nadia Ivanova, Rhonda Massel Donovan, Libbi Ponce, Jessi Ramirez & Emiliano Settecasi
Opening reception: Saturday March 26, 5–9pm
Closing reception: Sunday May 29, 5-9pm
Gallery hours: by appointment
Press: Temporary Art Review
Thomas Kong (Chicago, IL) is the second artist presented by Coco Hunday, an exhibition space run by Jason Lazarus in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa, Florida. In mid-March an SUV filled with artworks from Kong’s vast archive of collage work was driven from Chicago to Tampa by Chicago-based artist Dan Miller. At Coco Hunday, a group of six emerging artists studying at the University of South Florida were invited to engage the archive and curate a new exhibition of Kong’s work in the converted garage gallery and nearby domestic spaces.
Thomas Kong works in collage and assemblage, primarily using repurposed advertising materials and product packaging from his convenience store, Kim’s Corner Food, located in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood. Kong’s prolific production occurs entirely at the store, which he runs with his wife between the hours of 8AM and 8PM, seven days a week. The task of describing his work is as immense as the body of material that forms them, an incomplete accounting of which might include: product packaging, cardboard boxes, leaves, twigs, cigarette packets, plastic bags, envelopes, adhesive lettering, polystyrene containers, tape dispensers, wrapping paper, aluminum foil, compact discs, plastic plates, promotional calendars, turkey timers, and the soiled wax-paper cups that hold the Korean red bean buns he feeds to friends and visitors. It is only a slight exaggeration to suggest that nothing coming in or out of the store is safe from Kong’s scissors, glue, tape or staples.
As a body of work, they betray an obvious resourcefulness and thrift, but many of Kong’s works possess a surprising critical gravity. In the most striking, the ideologies of consumption—the very source of his business’ revenue—are systematically dismantled. Cut up and de-contextualized yet unavoidably familiar, the permanently branded paper shapes in these collages and assemblages have a resounding message: desire itself is now completely abstract. And while many of the works are marked by his mantra ‘Be Happy,’ they invariably resist this easy reconciliation. The studio assistant here is late-capitalism, and 8PM is always near.
At Coco Hunday, the curatorial team chose to engage strategies that would complement and extend those of Thomas Kong’s convenience store. Working with rows of works running alongside the floor and ceiling throughout the main exhibition spaces, re-configurable stacks of collages are interspersed to recall the density and process of discovery key to the archive’s Chicago home. Additional installations highlight Kong’s newer collages on black plastic shopping bags and serial works on colored paper and poster board, alongside a selection of the most ambitious works to have made the journey to Tampa.
Fillerup is one of the first out-of-state exhibitions focused solely on Kong’s work, made in a collaborative process with student artists, and organized Dan Miller, one of Kong’s Chicago-based friends and co-conspirators. In its entirety, the exhibition represents an ambitious attempt to engage the prolific and unexpected practice of an emerging artist (now 66) who is largely unable to travel and whose practice is only in its sixth year.
Thomas Kong lives and works in Chicago. His convenience store, Kim’s Corner Food, located in the city’s Rogers Park neighborhood, features an evolving installation of his work. Since October 2015 a dedicated presentation space and archive of Kong’s work known as The Back Room has been open to visitors and played host to an ongoing exhibition program. Kong received a degree in English Literature from Sogang University in 1972, and has lived in Chicago since 1977. In 2015, he had a solo exhibition at Pony Club in Portland, Oregon and was included in a two-person exhibition with John Neff at Night Club, Chicago. Kong was recently the subject of a solo exhibition, Be Happy (A Proposal) at Roman Susan, Chicago, and will have a solo exhibition in August 2016 at TCB Art Inc., Melbourne, Australia. For more information visit thomaskong.biz
Dan Miller is an Australian artist based in Chicago. Since the fall of 2014 he has worked with Thomas Kong in an experimental collaboration whose projects include The Back Room at Kim’s Corner Food, an exhibition space and archive housed in an adapted storage room behind Kong’s convenience store. For more information visit danmiller.website