After careful analysis of Michigan State University’s iconic Spartan statue, Young Joon Kwak, 2020-2021 Artist-in-Residence in Critical Race Studies at MSU, re-imaged the statue to create the Spartan Skin exhibit, which opened to the public April 9 at the MSU Union Art Gallery and will be on display through May 21.
Spartan Skin incudes sculptures made from cold-cast nickel silver that represent distinct portions of the Spartan statue. These sculptures even include the impressions left from the pennies glued to the statue by athletes seeking good luck.
I genuinely love what I’ve made. I genuinely want it to connect with the MSU community.Young Joon Kwak, Artist-in-Residence in Critical Race Studies
“The casts are all in fragments – the face, the groin, the torso, the pennies that are stuck to the statue. I chose these fragments because of their ability to be recognized while still requiring a slower, extended viewing. I also wanted to present them as fragments in order to make them more approachable, bringing them down to a human scale,” Kwak said. “I genuinely love what I’ve made. I genuinely want it to connect with the MSU community.”
A Los Angeles-based multidisciplinary artist, Kwak primarily uses sculpture, performance, video, and community-based collaborations to reimagine bodies and the power structures that govern our everyday lives as mutable and permeable sites of agency.
“Young Joon Kwak models a different approach to public art. The artist takes a recuperative attitude toward the Spartan statue, while opening the symbol to careful consideration,” said Karin Zitzewitz, Interim Chair of the Department of Art, Art History, and Design. “What does it mean, Kwak’s work asks, to identify a university campus that reflects our diverse society with any one icon?”
Kwak began examining the details of the Sparty statue last November by capturing the exterior surface in silicone molds. These molds were then used to “remake” the Spartan’s skin by creating the cold-cast metal sculptures from distinct portions of the Sparty statue. The exhibit also includes a series of prints made from the molds that highlight even the smallest details and illustrate how the Spartan’s body deviates further from its original form.
Young Joon Kwak models a different approach to public art. The artist takes a recuperative attitude toward the Spartan statue, while opening the symbol to careful consideration.Karin Zitzewitz, Interim Chair of the Department of Art, Art History, and Design
Kwak completed the sculpture work with help from Lauren Batdorff, senior Studio Art major, and Nicolei Gupit, MFA candidate in Studio Art, helped create the prints that are displayed alongside the casts.
While the project can be viewed at the MSU Union Art Gallery, a Spartan Skin web page also is available with photos of the work.
Kwak will hold a panel discussion of the work with members of the Asian Pacific Islanders and Desi Americans community. The event is being co-organized with Naoko Wake, Asian & Pacific American Studies Director, and Ellen Moll, Assistant Director for the College of Arts & Letters’ Center for Integrative Studies for the Arts & Humanities.
The Spartan Skin exhibit is supported by the Department of Art, Art History, and Design and was organized by Jacquelynn Sullivan Gould, Assistant Professor and Director of Galleries. Kwak’s work also received approval from President Stanley and Provost Teresa K. Woodruff.
The entire Spartan Skin exhibition will also be shown at Kwak’s art gallery, Commonwealth and Council, in Los Angeles in the fall.
“This isn’t just regional MSU art, this body of artwork is my contribution to a larger, contemporary art dialogue around public monuments and the symbols that are meant to define large communities,” Kwak said.
This isn’t just regional MSU art, this body of artwork is my contribution to a larger, contemporary art dialogue around public monuments and the symbols that are meant to define large communities.Young Joon Kwak, Artist-in-Residence in Critical Race Studies
Kwak’s work as Artist-in-Residence at MSU also led to the free virtual lecture series, Mutant Salon Talks. Since mid-February, Kwak organized and hosted panels that covered a range of interdisciplinary subjects, from works that addressed war and migration to the overlapping ecologies of personal and universal phenomena.
Supported by the Department of Art, Art History, and Design, the program featured talks from E.J. Hill, Gordon Hall, rafa esparza, Julie Tolentino, Beatriz Cortez, Kelly Akashi, Nikita Gale, and Amanda Ross-Ho.
“As the Artist-in-Residence in Critical Race Studies, I wanted to promote diversity at this time of remote learning,” Kwak said. “That’s what inspired me to start these virtual talks, so that students could engage with actively exhibiting artists that embody diversity, not merely in terms of representing different races, but also through their varied fresh and innovative approaches that are driving contemporary art discourse.”
For more information about Kwak and Mutant Salon, visit Young Joon Kwak’s website.
The Critical Race Studies Artist-in-Residence program, offered by the Department of Art, Art History, and Design, was established in 2017 thanks to a $750,000 gift from the Michigan State University Federal Credit Union (MSUFCU).
Written by Alec Parr