EMBRACING THE VOID-KOREAN COLLECTIVE LONDON 2011

Date: 03 Jun – 25 Jun 2011
Venue: 49 Albemarle Street, London W1S 4JR
Tel: +44 (0)7912 417 629
Fax: +44 (0)20 7499 1717
Email: info@hadacontemporary.com
Web: http://hadacontemporary.com

Reviewed by Iain Robertson | Head of Art Business Studies, Sothebys Institute of Art

When a Korean artist applies a brush stroke to Hanji (mulberry bark) paper, the intention is to draw the viewer’s attention to the space the mark has corrupted as much as to the mark itself. The relationship of the object to the space it inhabits and man (or woman) to the object are two central tenets of Korean art . The embrace of ‘nothingness’ as a path towards Buddha-hood is at the heart of spirituality in Asia, and the invasion of consumer goods and services infringes on this incorporeal world. All the artists brought together for this exhibition are concerned with our use of space and the relationship of us and our material possessions to the void.

Moon Beom (b.1955) works with natural and manmade materials. His earliest work (in the 1970s) focused on the textural relationship between rocks and paper. In the next decade he introduced a rich pigment into his sculptural compositions. One of the most captivating works from this period is India (1986) in which four bowls of yellow pigment are placed atop a white painted canvas interrupted by sketchy brush marks. The pigment filled bowls might allude to the spice turmeric, in common use on the sub-continent. The intense blue colour that Moon applied to his canvases in the 1990s, which he marked with expressive black brush strokes, have copper pipes, steel rods and grills inserted between the painted panels (Desert, 1991), suspended from the top of the frame (Custom, 1994)or placed across the painting’s red and blue surface (Nine Windows, 1994). In each case the metal object(s) regulate the space on the picture surface. In these examples Moon has been clearly influenced by Arte Povera, but from 1995-2003 in the ‘Slow Same’ series his focus was drawn to traditional Eastern landscape, which he described in the modern media of acrylic, oil-stick and urethane. Moon’s acknowledgement of the fundamental importance of traditional landscape painting in Asian art collided with the Modern world in another series, ‘Same Slow Same’ (1998-2003) in which the artist broadens his investigation to examine the impact of mechanical speed and biological duration on our human psyche. This he recounts in puddles of paint that he manipulates into amorphic forms. Moon’s observation, most pointedly demonstrated in the works in which tool parts lie in containers alongside natural objects, is that the mental and physical accoutrements of Modern life are much harder for man to assimilate than nature’s.

In his ‘ Flat Series’ (2003) Gwon Osang (b.1974) shares Moon’s interest in the inherent problems of the commercialisation of consumption. The Flat 3 (2003) depicts images of hundreds of different and desirable watches, each displaying its brand on the dial or strap. The market in Asia for fine watches and jewellery has expanded faster than perhaps any other luxury good in recent years, and the works from this series break down the hierarchies of prestige that inform price, by presenting the artefacts in a collective spread. In the artist’s most recent works, ‘Deodorant Type’ , the same visually democratic notion has been applied to his Styrofoam sculptures, to which Gwon has applied hundreds of fly-speck photographs of the human body (‘Pieta’, 2007), on one occasion a horse and rider (‘Manchester Mounted Police’, 2008) and on another, a Lamborghini (‘The Sculpture II’, 2005), this time cast in bronze. There is a clear reference in each of these sculptures to the West: The Pieta is a Christian convention, and the Christian church now permeates Modern Korea; the equestrian statue is a Classical tradition and the Lamborghini a ‘desirable’ Western consumer good presented in the typically European medium of bronze, which has found form in the statue of Admiral Yi Sun-sin in central Seoul. The series name alone, ‘Deodorant Type’, hints at Gwon’s disapproval at the indiscriminate application of goods and conventions from the West onto an Asian public. Asians have no use for deodorants, and by implication little use for many of the luxury goods and conventions the West unloads on the continent. Perhaps the most physically intrusive cultural phenomenon that owes all to America’s obsession with plastic beauty, is the predilection among Korean women in particular for cosmetic surgery, which normally tries to Caucasianize the face. The patchwork face of the girl in ‘Bazaar’ (2008), striding out like a cat-walk model, certainly leaves the viewer with the impression that a plastic-surgical intervention has been performed.

The absence of the face in Jeong Myoungjo‘s (b.1970) immaculate life-sized oil paintings of the backs of Korean women in traditional costume, draw our attention to the invisibility of females in this paternalistic society. In’ Play-Ground #09-03′ (2009) Jeong’s brush describes with enamelled precision the sweeping silk and silver thread brocade of a hanbok (Korean clothing). The Jeogori (upper garment ) is a luscious navy blue and the full folds of the chima (skirt) a rich crimson . The model is probably wearing a gache (wig), which she has adorned with an elaborate assortment of ornaments. The figure, little more than a mannequin, stands as many of Jeong’s subjects do, in a void. Jeong’s meticulous attention to the detail of the costume at the expense of the subject invites the viewer to seek visual satisfaction from the garment’s surface ornament and decoration rather than fulfilment from the subject.

Lee Jinhan‘s (b.1982) fantastic landscapes depart from the traditional Eastern formula of portraying nature. They explode onto the canvas with an expressionist energy. But underlining the vitality of these pictures is a disciplined structure . ‘Night Light’ (2010) is a carefully composed harmonious work constructed out of pyramids, flats and circles. An oil sketch like ‘ Brazilian Garden’ (2011) shows another side to the artist’s personality as she allows us to look at an intimate snapshot of cacti, sand and sea cocooned in a white shell against a blood red background.

Korean artists are not afraid of technology. Je Baak‘s (b.1978) videos (‘The structure of’ ,2010), which are in fact nocturnal films of fairground rides, appear as space stations. The artist is interested in the antithetical relationship between man and machine. In ‘Gong 1’ (2009) the object that defines human actions is deleted – in this case the football in a football match. The urgency and excitement that the viewer might experience from a real match dissipates. Our gaze spreads out across the field of play and our senses conjoin with the rhythm of the players movements.

 

About HADA Contemporary
HADA Contemporary is a joint venture established by Tom Woo and Tony Pontone, the founder of Albemarle Gallery, London. The ethos of the gallery is to introduce established and emerging artists from Korea and neighbouring countries in the Far East to audiences in London and other major cities throughout Europe. Conversely the gallery will strive to bridge East and West cultural divisions in contemporary art by promoting European artists in Korea and countries further afield. In nurturing artists from both Europe and the Far East, HADA Contemporary aims to cultivate the relationship between these most current and dynamic artistic arenas equally rich in their history of art.

 

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