BY Lisa Yin Zhang in Opinion | 06 OCT 23

Editor’s Picks: Seoul Reading Room

Other highlights include Mitski’s new album and Dmitry Samarov's collection of replies to decades-old letters

BY Lisa Yin Zhang in Opinion | 06 OCT 23

Frieze Editor’s Picks is a fortnightly column in which a frieze editor shares their recommendations for what to watch, read and listen to.

Seoul Reading Room

One of the best parts of my job is meeting my writers. Last month in Seoul, I had the chance to chat with long-serving frieze writer Jaeyong Park in person. During the first edition of Frieze Seoul last year, Jaeyong decided everyone was getting a little overexcited. He wanted to emphasize the other side of the fair: the potential not just for the exchange of objects, but the intermixing of people from different scenes and geographies; a cultural interchange unrelated to commerce.

A picture of hands leafing through a book with other books in the backdrop
Seoul Reading Room, 2023. Courtesy: Jaeyong Park

He planned a night – called ‘Who Wants to Hang Out in Seoul’, after a @jerrygogosian meme – that would counter the ‘extravaganza’ of the private dinners and parties that go on during the fair. There was no RSVP list and no alcohol: just books recommended by Jaeyong’s colleagues, accompanied by short descriptions in Korean and English. It was an evening of quiet conversation between editors, writers, artists, students and literary enthusiasts; the best respite from a packed schedule.

Seoul reading room
Seoul Reading Room, 2023. Courtesy: Jaeyong Park

Se-Jin Park, a content coordinator at the Seoul International Women’s Film Festival, recommended Moon Seo-jin’s journal made during a residency in Maine, and Areum Kim, of the Seoul Foundation for Culture and Arts, suggested a Lee Jung Seop catalogue (2023). I was introduced via anonymous entries to The Story of Shells, or Fragments on the Incompleteness of Art by Wonhwa Yoon (2022), a book of critical essays on exhibitions seen during the pandemic, and Youngle Kim’s Noir, Schwarz, Kuro and Hyun (2021), a book published by the author’s one-person publishing house centred around the colour black. I recommend you give Seoul Reading Room a follow on Instagram, and swing by its collection of hundreds of donated art books if you are based in or find yourself in Seoul. 

Dmitry Samarov, To whom it may concern (2023)

Staying with the theme of meeting my writers, I was introduced to Samarov after reading a review he had written for Newcity, a culture magazine based in Chicago. I was looking for someone to cover a show of James Little at Kavi Gupta late last year; someone who could write on painting, on abstraction; someone knowledgeable and invested in the local art scene. He ticked all the boxes. In April, we spent the day together, in and out of Expo Chicago art fair. Then in late July, he got in touch again to say that he’d written a book. ‘Didn’t expect it to come together so soon,’ he told me, ‘but it was insistent on being born.’

To whom it may concern
Dmitry Samarov, To whom it may concern, 2023, book cover.

Printed by Nero Ink, Chicago, To whom it may concern is a collection of responses Samarov recently wrote to letters that he has received over the decades, interspersed with full-colour collages made from those letters. ‘Remember when we used to play?’ he writes to D, a childhood friend. ‘You seemed to know everything. You had so many toys.’

As he writes in the somewhat-crochety copyright page for his new book (it tracks with his personality, trust me), ‘the reason I made [this book] and shared it is because I have to.’ To all of us hovering in various circuits of the artworld who have projects on the backburner, it feels like a testament to the worthiness of archiving, of revisiting, of working.

Mitski, The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We (2023)

You can always count on Mitski to deliver the most devastating lines in the sweetest voice you’ve ever heard. If you want to get a little bit in your feelings, you’ve got to listen to her aptly named album The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We, which she released last month. ‘Sometimes, a drink feels like family…’ she croons on the opening track, ‘Bug Like an Angel’, in which the ecstatic, gospel-like interludes of a 17-person choir contrast with sections that feature only her voice alongside barebones acoustic accompaniment.

Mitski, 'My Love Mine All Mine’, 2023, music video still
Mitski, 'My Love Mine All Mine’, 2023, music video still. Courtesy: the artist and 

When I saw Mitski on stage at Mass MoCA, Massachusetts, in 2019, she was performing a selection of songs from her rock-infused LP Be the Cowboy, which had just come out. During her set she gave a performance that was part aerobics exercise, part choreographed endurance test, with pitch-perfect singing throughout. The image that stays in my mind, of the artist lying on her back, kicking her feet in the air, encapsulates everything I admire about her unpredictable musical style.

The Land Is Inhospitable … is filled with the signature yet always unexpected semitones through which her voice glides, like the flick of a brush. Then there are the rhythm switches and rock flourishes on tracks like ‘The Deal’. But this album also captures Mitski’s quieter, more introspective moods. The slow, almost plodding rhythm of ‘Heaven’ feels like drinking whiskey on a summer night on a porch. And I’m a sucker for the ballad ‘My Love Mine All Mine’. Accompanied by a languid piano and spare drums, she sings to the moon: ‘Nothing in the world belongs to me/ But my love, mine, all mine.’

Main image: Seoul Reading Room, 2023. Courtesy: Jaeyong Park

Lisa Yin Zhang is assistant editor at frieze.