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TO SEPT. 26

It is not a stairway to heaven. Granted, Korean-bred artist Do-ho Suh’s Staircase-IV (pictured) does appear celestial and ephemeral, in part because it’s made of shimmering, translucent red-orange fabric, in part because it floats in the interior of the Sackler Gallery’s entrance pavilion like a low-hanging cloud. Look closely, however, and you’ll see details that are anything but cosmic: electrical switches, light fixtures, unhidden power lines. In fact, the narrow stairway that hovers just out of reach is a 1:1 model of the one that leads to Suh’s New York apartment. It’s merely the entrance to a ratty walk-up, transformed into a glimmering abstraction. The artist has long defined areas in translucent fabrics, creating spaces he calls “intangible, metaphorical, and psychological.” In the exhibition’s catalogue, Suh insists that “basically, my work doesn’t exist for the purpose of representing my thoughts.” Yet he has more than a few thoughts about his fabric spaces, including the notion that they raise questions that resemble those central to Buddhist philosophy. Indeed, Staircase-IV suggests the temple in Korean director Kim Ki-duk’s current Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring, whose free-standing doors and gates define the correct path without barring any other course. Both structures are tantalizingly out of reach: Kim’s temple exists only on film, and Suh’s stairway hangs just above viewers’ heads. Ultimately, that is what’s most ephemeral about Suh’s work: Like heaven itself, Staircase-IV represents an imaginary space that can never be occupied. The installation is on view from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, to Sunday, Sept. 26, at the Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Ave. SW. Free. (202) 357-4880. (Mark Jenkins)