Ho Tam

TITLE: David Hirsh on Ho Tam




Ho Tam’s entire body of art is probably among the most ambitious characterizations of Asian identity in North American art. The current installation contains three series from this output, The Salary Men, Matinee Idols and Greetings. In it, the regularized sequences of Asian faces and body parts makes racial visibility a basic, inherent and personal issue. Though one might also see a more general estimation or fantasy on male relationships. Or on divisions of labor and male beauty. The work can clearly compare with other known installation in recent western art about Asian male identity.


The warmth and confidence of the figures, together with common words and trade names, can make getting comfortable easier, provided one is open to a full exposition. Bad boys and good men, sensual youth and regular guys, models, in some way, all of them. The idea of “role models” is played with, as is categorization of people with brands.


Portraiture is, in a sense, “branding” an individual with another person’s painterly technique. In its conceptual mannerism, Ho Tam’s art refers to classical iconography. The more recent type of Minimalism which has grown up with Felix Gonzalez-Torres is induced through repetition. The type where personal compulsion streams across the walls, a strength of conviction. The cap is sealed on the Pop attributes in Ho Tam’s art by its iconization of immediately contemporary figures and by their graphic poses. As well, this can turn to commentary on social formulas. The word-image associations provide another point of entry. The artist is drawing on a lexicon of art movements from the last thirty years to identify his figures.


The work is about movements and their inter-relationships, among masses of people as in art. In the Matinee Idols series, one axis refers to the growth of globally-recognized multi-national corporations as a component in multi-cultural developments over the past thirty years. The meaning in this installation will alter with the interchange of symbols over time. Its sturdiness is also due to the levels of personal disclosure in the art. The tone of hope is one of it remarkable achievements.


(Galerie Articule catalogue, Montreal, 1995)