Anna Park’s solo exhibition Last Call at SCAD Museum of Art is full of empty smiles, impossibly dense compositions, and vacuous black, an incredible array of expression executed in a single medium: charcoal on paper.
The most impressive element of this exhibition is the mark-making. Using only charcoal, the artist creates fragmented and shattered shapes with overlapping marks, veritable visual static that disrupts the figures and objects. Rather than unbridled chaos, the artist cleverly incorporates this frenetic mark-making through their chosen images. Artworks such as the eponymous Last Call (2021) features stacks of paper currency, ruffled collars, stars, and long hair, all of which are visually dense objects and thus the perfect site for this optical cacophony. By taking existing elements and perverting them with frenzied mark-making, Park debases the viewers familiarity and comfort while simultaneously pulling them in. You can’t look away, though you may want to.
Throughout the work, there are balls of frantic energy offset by moments of utter emptiness. In artworks such as Free Fall (2021), the inverted smiling figure is surrounded by clusters of marks yet set against a black void. The flat black of the background, enclosing the hectic subject, momentarily serves as a welcome reprieve for the viewer’s eyes but this relief lasts only a second before the emptiness begins to engulf. Viewing the artwork both up close and from afar, the moments of total black cause a sinking feeling, as if the viewer is looking down on the artwork as it descends to the bottom of the ocean.
By virtue of their scale alone, these artworks necessitate a large space, and their larger-than-life scale means the artworks tower over the viewer. The large, unobstructed gallery space ameliorated this. Yet the ability to step away, far away, from each artwork allowed me to try and make sense of what I am looking at. Ultimately this is a fruitless affair because while stepping further back allows greater understanding of the overall composition, the image is reluctant to resolve itself with any certainty. I stand resolute in my flux. Despite the depth and complexity of the individual artworks, the overall exhibition did not have the same quality. The artworks, all hung at the same height under uniform lighting, did not seem to meaningfully communicate to each other. The imagery was as connected as any selection of artworks from a single artist’s oeuvre would be but moving from one artwork to the next did not continually deepen my experience. Rather than one experience composed of five moments, it felt like five individual experiences. Leaving the gallery space left a lasting impression of imposition and nihilistic despair, a fitting feeling for an exhibition titled Last Call, the time of the night when bacchanalia must end and a return to the mundane must begin.
Anna Park: Last Call is on view at SCAD Museum of Art in Savannah, GA through January 2, 2023.