Chemical Balance III

  • Jean Shin, Chemical Balance III, 2009, prescription pill bottles, acrylic mirrors, epoxy, fluorescent lights, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of an anonymous donor in honor of YoungArts, the core program of the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, 2010.2A-E, © 2009, Jean Shin

Jean Shin has created a diverse body of work using ordinary items accumulated through a lengthy process of social exchange with friends, relatives and various communities. Broken umbrellas, empty wine bottles, old record albums, and used clothing are just a few of the objects that Shin has collected in massive quantities and reconfigured into sculptural installations. In her hands, these humble objects become new again, revealing the potential of things we seldom give a second glance.

Shin’s sculptures and installations are at once rigorously formal and emotionally resonant, mass-produced yet insistently handmade. They reference a wide range of art historical precedents, from minimalism, with its unyielding repetition of singular forms, to feminism, with its focus on traditional craft techniques, and Arte Povera, with its connection to everyday life.

The body is a central metaphor in Shin’s work, born from her study of anatomy, life drawing, and figurative painting. The donated items she gathers from friends, relatives, colleagues, and community members serve as surrogates for their original owners by referencing the body both physically and metaphorically. This relationship is particularly evident in Chemical Balance III.

Chemical Balance III deals with the production, commodification, and consumption of commercial goods. Thousands of empty prescription pill bottles are stacked into towering arrangements that resemble natural forms such as stalactites. The installation speaks to our culture’s overconsumption of prescription drugs and our dependency on these medications to correct or alter our internal chemical balance. The containers were collected from nursing homes, pharmacies, friends and family of the artist. The addition of artificial illumination inside each structure functions as a metaphor for the relief and renewed optimism that comes from restored health after an illness.

Chemical Balance III was featured in the 2009 exhibition Jean Shin: Common Threads.

Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2010

Chemical Balance III
Not on view
5 units 18 to 40 in. (45.7 to 101.6 cm) diameter
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Gift of an anonymous donor in honor of YoungArts, the core program of the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts

Mediums Description
prescription pill bottles, acrylic mirrors, epoxy, fluorescent lights
Object Number
Linked Open Data
Linked Open Data URI

More from artist

More Artworks from the Collection