Comprising eight stacked glass boxes of varying sizes positioned on top of a roughly gilded rectangular MDF base, this work is one of numerous vitrine-based installations produced by the artist. The work can be displayed in two different configurations – either as a rectangular formation, with different sized boxes paired to form an irregular tower, or stacked vertically, one box on top of another, from the largest on the bottom to the smallest on top. The glass panes, on which the artist’s fingerprints are visible, are joined with silicone topped with gilded modelling clay, recalling the glass receptacles used to house artefacts in museological displays. Three of the vitrines are empty, while the remaining five contain gilded bronze forms resembling lumps of excrement. The largest box measures 355 x 610 x 360 mm and contains the biggest bronze form. Three slightly smaller boxes are empty, while the remaining four even smaller vitrines each contain a single bronze form.
The use of trivial objects and bodily excretions such as blood, spit, vomit and semen is typical of Koh’s practice; however, in this example, the artist has used modelled bronze forms in place of actual excrement. By solidifying and making permanent what is normally soft and ephemeral, as well as by applying gilding to their surfaces, the artist imbues the objects with the quality of fetish objects. Equally characteristic of Koh’s oeuvre is the use of fragile and perishable material that leaves the work open to change, rot, and degradation. In Untitled (A New World Order Lies in this Golden Age), the bronze forms are not secured within the glass boxes that house them, and two of the sides of one of the boxes have been cracked by the collision force of the object within it. The artist states that change is an inherent part of his artistic output and that, ‘all manner of breakage, rot, imperfections, etc. are intentional and integral parts of the works’ (email to acquisitions registrar Sarah Miller, 19 June 2007, Tate Gallery Records).
The parenthetical title of the work, (A New World Order Lies in this Golden Age), seems to refer both to the physical appearance of the installation – the two possible configurations, or systems of ordering, of the vitrines – and the fact that they contain golden objects, which suggest legends of a Golden Age, found in both ancient Greek and Eastern mythologies. Alternatively, it could connote the present age of high capitalism.
Infused with art historical, sub-cultural, and personal references, Koh’s work is informed by issues surrounding the body and sexuality. From afar, the repetition of forms and the use of industrially-produced glass in Untitled (A New World Order Lies in this Golden Age) recalls the minimalist sculpture of the late 1960s and early 1970s. However, upon closer examination, the clean-cut aesthetic of minimalist art appears violently subverted by the use of imperfect, broken and fragile material, as well as by the smudges left on the boxes’ surfaces in the form of the artist’s fingerprints. In its openness to change and use of faecal forms, the installation also calls to mind the earlier work of Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968) and Piero Manzoni (1933–63). However, the mimicry of museum display strategies and the deployment of abject forms position Koh’s work within the framework of more recent artistic practice, such as that of Dieter Roth (1930–98), Kiki Smith (born 1954) and Matthew Monahan (born 1972). Insofar as Untitled (A New World Order Lies in this Golden Age) references the human body, it should also be seen within the context of Koh’s performance art, where bodily excretions and sexualized imagery figure prominently. For this reason his work has also been considered within the context of new gothic or gothic revival art that draws on the darker aspects of modern life – pornography, death metal, violent imagery and commodity culture – and infuses it with a mood of discontent or disturbance (Francesca Gavin, Hell Bound: New Gothic, London 2008).
Marc Spiegler, ‘Is Terence Koh’s Sperm Worth $100,000?: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Punk Capitalist’, New York Magazine, 7 January 2007, pp.55–67, http://nymag.com/arts/art/features/26275/
, accessed 5 July 2010.
Shamim M. Momin and Beatrix Ruf, Terence Koh, New Haven 2007.
Agustin Pérez Rubio, Bill Arning and Cerith Wyn Evans, Terence Koh, 1980–2008: Love for Eternity, exhibition catalogue, Museo de Arte Contemporanéo de Castilla y León, 2009.