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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)


Photo: Paul Macapia



Do Ho Suh

Korean, born 1962

The assignment [at the Rhode Island School of Design] was using the form of clothing to address this issue of identity…[it] allowed me to think about my identity as a Korean in the United States, through that project.

Do Ho Suh, in an interview with Art21

Some/One, 2001, represents artist Do Ho Suh's interest in individual and collective identity. In the tradition of minimalist sculpture (works by artists such as Donald Judd, Dan Flavin and Carl André) Do Ho Suh's work explores how installation and sculpture pieces transform public and private spaces. His works are rich in content and aesthetics. Unlike some minimalist sculptures, they contain a painstaking amount of intricate detail that is not always apparent at first sight but is an integral part of the artwork. Some/One, as the title of the work indicates, juxtaposes the collectiverepresented by a larger-than-life armor sculptureand the individual, consisting of life-size shiny-metal dog tags, each unique and representing a single soldier. This allegory is carried forward by contrasting the hard, insensitive character of armor with the delicate aspect of the dog tags, which are made up of thin sheets of metal and embody the poetic symbolism of fallen warriors.
Stainless steel military dog-tags, nickel-plated copper sheets, steel structure, glass fiber reinforced resin, rubber sheets
Diameter at base: 24 ft. 4 in.; Height: 81 in.
Gift of Barney A. Ebsworth
Provenance: The artist; [Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York, New York]
Photo: Paul Macapia
Not currently on view

Collective Versus Individual Identity

Detail of dog tags, 2002.43
"... collecting these materials and also from my interaction with the army and the navy surplus store owner who happened to be an old Korean guy in Cranston, Rhode Island … he allowed me to use this special typewriter for the dog tags.... I think, for almost two weeks I typed dog tags. And I had around thirty thousand dog tags there. And we had a conversation, you know, we talked about things going on back in Korea."

—Do-Ho Suh, in an interview with Art21

The dog tags used in Some/One are each unique, and they each represent an individual. Altogether, however, they also represent a group, a collective entity. They might refer to Korea's aspirations for collective unity despite the historic divide between North and South Korea. The artist relies on the notion that the dog tag is not only an identification tool but a symbol of belonging to a group; that is, the military, in which an individual's interests are forfeited in favor of the entire division.
Detail, 2002.43
The arrangement of overlapping dog tags creates an ultra shiny and reflective surface that captures viewers' faces on the armor. This reflection begs us to question whose identity we are looking at. The artist's, the fallen soldiers' or our own? In an interview with Art21, Suh remarked that he intends "people to make multiple associations to the work. I really like it when that happens. I don't know whether it's simply coincidence or not, but I think I carefully manage to keep the work open so it could be read in different ways."

Some/Oneis hollow inside so that the core of the sculpture is laid bare and open for visitors to view. The hollowness makes the work appear fragile and ephemeral, which is disconcerting because we expect it to be sturdy and resilient. This fragility contrasts with the wide and imposing overall outline of the armor. However, much like any other military wear, the work is left hollow because it needs to be "filled" by an individual in order to serve its purpose. Without a human figure to fill it, the armor is useless, an object of contemplation instead of an instrument of protection.

The Role of Memory in the Work of Suh, Kiefer and Beuys

Photo: Paul Macapia
Die Welle (The Wave), 1990, Anselm Kiefer
Three artists with works on view at SAM use clothing as a metaphor for loss and tragedy in somber times: Do-Ho Suh, Anselm Kiefer and Joseph Beuys. The work of contemporary artist Do-Ho Suh follows in the tradition of German post-war artists like Kiefer and Beuys, whose works often deal with the legacy of Nazism. All three artists conjure up complex and ambiguous narratives that allow multiple interpretations.

In Die Welle, 1990, Anselm Kiefer uses children's clothing to imagine a major catastrophe based on the powerful emotional punch of lost innocence or young lives cut short. These articles of clothing, which include an older-woman's dress (the mother?), are strewn about and hang amid a painterly landscape of cracked earth and mangled metal.
Felt Suit, 1978, Joseph Beuys, 97.48
Joseph Beuys' Felt Suit represents an Everyman, using just this closet remnant to stand in for a life lived. Like Do-Ho Suh, Beuys uses materials that are charged with personal symbolism. His suit is made from the thick felt of army blankets, a material that provides warmth and comfort amid conditions that are likely to be unfriendly. 
Photo: Paul Macapia
Some/One, 2001, Do-Ho Suh, 2002.43
In Some/One, Do-Ho Suh uses a disembodied robe to conjure up a similarly transcendental being, built from the existence, or maybe the loss, of thousands of men, symbolized by the dog tags. The viewer is able to project him- or herself into the mirrored interior of this garment, which can be seen to be rising from the floor or melting into it. 

Clothing in Contemporary Art

Do Ho Suh's work revolves around the connections between symbols and images related to his traditional Korean upbringing and his current life as an artist living and working in New York City. His work is sentimental and nostalgic, but it is also progressive and contemporary in its exploration of issues such as conflict, loss and displacement and how these issues affect collective and individual identity. The materials he uses, such as small figures, dog tags, beads or items of clothing, are often personalized and refer to the self as much as to their expanded function within a group or community.


Do-Ho Suh talks about his work Some/One


Exhibition HistorySeattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Anne Gerber Biennial: Do-Ho Suh, Aug. 10, 2002 - Dec. 1, 2002.

London, England, Serpentine Gallery, Do-Ho Suh, Apr. 23 - May 26, 2002 (Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum and Seattle Asian Art Museum, Aug. 10 - Dec. 1, 2002). Text by Lisa G. Corrin and Miwon Kwon. No cat. no., pp. 5, 9, 11-13, 16-17, 41, end pages, reproduced [no object number at time of publication].

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Asian Art Museum, Be/longing: Contemporary Asian Art, Feb. 8, 2020 - ongoing.
Published ReferencesFitzgerald, Michael. "Opening a Do-Ho to His Art", Time Magazine. June 3, 2002, pp. 52-53.

Farr, Sheila. "SAM Trustees buy Do-Ho Suh's 'Some/One'" The Seattle Times Sept. 6, 2002: Arts and Entertainment

"SAM Acquires Major Piece from Do-Ho Suh's Exhibit" Seattle Post-Intelligencer,
Sept. 6, 2002, Visual Art

"Stories: Do-Ho Suh: Some/One & the Korean Military", Art 21, PBS, 2003,

Hackett, Regina. "SAM's Modern Art Curator has High Hopes for his Expanded Collection", Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 14, 2007, A&E

Ishikawa, Chiyo et al. "Seattle Art Museum Downtown." Seattle, WA: Seattle Art Museum, 2007, illus. pp. 58-59, 69

"Seattle Art Museum: Bridging Cultures." London: Scala Publishers Ltd. for the Seattle Art Museum, 2007, p. 46

Sullivan, Jennifer, "Thousands Join SAM's 35-Hour-Long Party to Celebrate SAM's Makeover", The Seattle Times May 6, 2007, Local news

Tanumihardja, Pat, "SAM's Asian Art Growns in Number, Strength", Northwest Asian Weekly, June 7, 2007.

Berner, Alan. "Seattle Asian Art Museum suits up for its reopening," Seattle Times, December 21, 2019: p. A7, reproduced. [A version of the coverage appears online on December 20, 2019 with the headline: "Seattle Asian Art Museum suits up for its re-opening,"]

Messman, Lauren. "Seattle Asian Art Museum to Repoen After $56 Million Renovation." The New York Times, Feb. 3, 2020, Reproduced.

Foong, Ping, Xiaojin Wu, and Darielle Mason. "An Asian Art Museum Transformed." Orientations vol. 51, no. 3 (May/June 2020): p. 68, reproduced fig. 28.

Kiley, Brendan. "Seattle Asian Art Museum is set to reopen – 3 years and $56 million later." Seattle Times, February 2, 2020: p. E1. [A version of this article appears online on January 30, 2020 with the headline: "Step inside the reinvented Seattle Asian Art Museum, set to reopen after 3 years," Reproduced.]

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