Nikki S. Lee: Parts: Revisited

Various Small Fires is pleased to present an intimate historical survey of Nikki S. Lee’s iconic Parts series. This exhibition marks the artist’s second with the gallery and Lee’s first presentation of the Parts series in her hometown of Seoul, South Korea. 


Nikki S. Lee’s Parts, shot in New York between 2002 and 2004, is an exploration of the multifaceted self. Lee first exhibited the series at the Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects gallery in New York City in 2002 and since then it has been historicized as a trailblazing body of work that investigates the impact of relationships on identity. Appearing in seemingly candid snapshots, Lee at times stares directly into the camera or gazes into the distance. The images often include traces of her (presumably male) partner, but the focus remains on Lee’s emotions and expressions captured within the scene. 


Lee physically slices the image of her partner out of each curated scene that hints at their intimate dynamics. The excisions enable the viewer to be inquisitive about the missing (or nonexistent) significant other and ponder upon how male identity may affect the woman who is presented in the scene by herself. In turn, the absence of the other reveals that through interpersonal relationships, one is able to see oneself. 


The three white borders left after Lee’s cut in each print show that images are not digitally altered in the camera or computer. Rather, Lee shows more interest in the physical activity of cutting photographs and presenting them as ‘partial photographic narratives.’ It enables the viewer to imagine the relationship, inciting the viewer’s own personal history to fill in the gaps presented in Lee’s staged scenes. 


Part theater, part candid camera, this media series most strikingly anticipates how we today, in the era of constructed selfies on social media, portray our own private moments and relationships. Lee’s physical cutting precedes the act of digitally cropping an image, each manipulating how the wider public consumes and gains access to the intimate lives of others.



Nikki S. Lee (b. 1970, Geochang, South Korea, lives and works in Seoul) has held solo exhibitions at GAK, Bremen; Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City; Cleveland Museum of Art; Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco; and Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago. Her works have been included in group exhibitions at Museum of Modern Art, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Gwangju Biennale; Istanbul Biennial; Liverpool Biennial and more. Her works are in the collections of major museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul; and Museum of Contemporary Art, Busan.