PaperCity Magazine

PaperCity Houston May 2023

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T oys, especially stuffed animals, are not new in contemporary art and design; witness the works of Mike Kelley, Joyce Pensato, and the Campana Brothers. When one gets to puppets, we move into TV and film icons, from Pinocchio, Lamb Chop, Topo Gigio, and the kingdoms of Mr. Rogers and Captain Kangaroo to Ernie, Big Bird, and Kermit. Such are the lessons of play. Now one Houston-based artist has transformed herself into a feminist Geppetto. In a PaperCity exclusive, we visit the studio of JooYoung Choi on the eve of her Moody Center for the Arts' opening (Thursday, May 25), followed this July by a solo at Inman Gallery and wrapping the year with a turn in Contemporary Arts Museum Houston's 75th anniversary exhibition, "Six Scenes From Our Future." When we first met JooYoung Choi a decade ago, she had just moved to town to join her fiancé, artist Trenton Doyle Hancock. In 2016, the pair wed at the Who Framed Roger Rabbit- featured Toontown Tunnel at Griffith Park in L.A. and celebrated at Disneyland — which makes sense if you know this couple and follow their artwork. To date, PaperCity has done three studio visits: in 2014, 2019, and now this spring. When you first look at images from Choi's new studio, you might mistake the location for the set of a children's TV pilot, but this is actually the creative environment of one of America's future art stars. Don't let the bright colors, menagerie of toys, handcrafted props (such as giant lollipop-shaped trees), and wall bearing all manner of puppets fool you. Amid this universe of jubilance and joy, there's a serious message, one inspired by Disney's 1966 ride It's a Small World. It's both retro utopian and on point now. Choi's art, which reflects her unique upbringing and her search for identity, bears messages about tolerance and inclusion — racial, sexual, cultural — and is intensely relevant today. A Brief Bio The Korean-born Choi came to America as an adopted infant, raised by Caucasian parents in the non-diverse state of New Hampshire. She holds academic credentials from Boston- area institutions: a BFA from Massachusetts College of Art and Design (2010) and MFA from Lesley University (2012). Along the way, study at Berklee College of Music — helpful in composing her own cartoon scores later — added to her repertoire. Before completing her education, the artist took the bold step of Inside the inventive universe of JooYoung Choi, where puppets run wild, bearing social consciousness. WELCOME TO WONDER By Catherine D. Anspon. Photography William Issac. JooYoung Choi

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