I am a sucker for bright colors and fun shapes, who isn’t? When I noticed Dopamine Dressing being set up through the windows of the UMMA, I knew that I was going to adore this exhibit. Artist YehRim Lee specializes in the use of ceramics and glazes, and the skill shines in her work that dives into the essence of Dopamine Dressing: the idea that bright colors and fun textures can act as a mood enhancer, triggering the release of neurotransmitters that create feelings of pleasure and reward. This idea that stemmed out of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown is most commonly taken on in the fashion world, but Lee explores it in her sculptures as well. Dopamine Dressing is Lee’s first museum exhibition in the United States.
The textures of Lee’s work stood out the most to me. The shapes of each sculpture were abstract and unique, being almost flower-like in appearance and blooming out of the bright pink walls of the space. Some pieces resembled snow, or frosting on a cake; others reminded me of fungi or coral. I had the strange feeling that the sculptures were some sort of candy to bite into…I felt as though I was looking at the world’s most intensely crafted gingerbread house. The work is often described as “decadent” and gives off all things over-indulgent! Lee’s method of refining her pieces with new layers of clay and multiple rounds of firing creates an interesting finish with many warps and cracks. Lee notes that this is to remind the audience that “dopamine bursts that come from sensual pleasure or excessive consumption perhaps provide only temporary relief from the cares of the world.” It gives the audience something to think about when walking through the exhibit; I like to think of it as beauty that can come from a temporary fix.
Overall, I found the experience to be enjoyable and the indulgence of it all very refreshing, especially in this art medium. Days before visiting Dopamine Dressing, I coincidentally read J De Leon’s piece, “Calling Self-Indulgence,” a piece that focuses on the idea of self-indulgence as a form of self preservation that, in some cases, allows us to care for ourselves and others. I couldn’t help but think back to it as I walked through Lee’s work, allowing myself to slip into the extravagance of it all.