In Meiro Koizumi's three-channel video installation, The Angels of Testimony (2019), the central frame features an interview with Hajime Kondo about his time as a solider of the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The conversation centres on war crimes perpetrated in China, including the beheading of Chinese prisoners for...
Diana Campbell Betancourt is a curator working predominantly across South and Southeast Asia. Since 2013 she has been the founding artistic director of the Samdani Art Foundation and chief curator of the Dhaka Art Summit in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a transnational art event that has grown in size and scale ever since its first edition in 2012. Backed by...
China, home to 802 million internet users, is subject to sophisticated online censorship. This shrouded state of affairs, unsurprisingly perhaps, serves to reinforce stereotypes around conformity elsewhere. Any realm, digital or otherwise, subject to such strict scrutiny must necessarily be bland and uncritical, right? I was mulling over such...
Photo by Rebecca Fanuele. Courtesy the artist and Almine Rech Gallery.
At Almine Rech Gallery in Paris, 21 of the artist's paintings, the majority of which were created in the past four years, demonstrated Ha's ability to imbue paint with the qualities of sculpture. The artist uses a methodical, labor-intensive process to create energetic paintings on hemp cloth, recalling the sacks of aid supplies distributed to South Korea from the United States following the Second World War.
Ha Chong-Hyun (하종현) is one of Korea's most acclaimed artists. He is a Dansaekhwa artist, 'Dansaekhwa' meaning 'monochrome painting'. Though this was not an official movement—it had no manifesto or clearly defined members—it describes the work of Korean artists from the mid-1970s who share a muted, spare palette and innovative approach to practice. These artists also came into their own in a period of great political upheaval and deprivation during the 1970s when South Korean president Park Chung Hee declared martial law and effectively ruled the state as a dictator.
Ha's work is characterised by its soft, earthy tones that echo Korea's landscape and villages. Working primarily with burlap—the same woven material used by the United States to transport relief supplies and goods to aid Korea during the Korean War—the artist imbues his paintings with a sense of sculpture by taking an unusual approach to the application of paint upon medium; he pushes thick layers of paint through the backside of his paintings and into the foreground, creating a seeped and textured surface, as in Conjunction 09-52 (2009). Referring to this method as bae-ap-bub ('back pressure method'), it suggests art as something that can have two sides. This labour-intensive experimentation, which was rendered in his 1970s 'Conjunction' series, helped redefine Korea's modern art and academic tradition. It also served to bridge avantgarde trends between East and West. In his use of burlap, Ha's work triggers associations with Western abstract artists, such as Alberti Boetti, who also used the cheap materials, and his paired down strokes resonate with that of post-war abstraction as seen in the work of Agnes Martin, Cy Twombly and Niele Toroni.
Seoul has been the artist's home since 1959 when he graduated from Hongik University. From 1990 to 1994 Ha served as dean at Hongik University's College of Fine Arts, and he was director of the Seoul Museum of Art from 2001 to 2006. His work has been the subject of numerous exhibitions, both nationally and worldwide.
In 1972, Ha Chong-Hyun made a small sculpture, which appears on its own as if anticipating his subsequent work as a painter. It consists of a hemp rope stretched across a wooden box so tightly that a few unraveling strands threaten to break the entire cordage. Extremely effective, the composition is as simple as its material is banal. An image of great tension and resistance, it epitomizes the artist’s practice and further announces his Conjunctions, a lifelong series of paintings, which was initiated in 1974 and is still ongoing to this day.
Ha Chong-Hyun turned to abstraction in the early 1960s, belonging to the first generation of Korean artists who embraced this aesthetical direction. While he first approached it by applying heavy materials onto canvases, his way of structuring the pictorial space was also close to that of European Informel1. He then continued his investigation by painting geometrical and polychromatic forms, which completely differed from the works he made initially. His nation’s traditional colors dominated in these new abstractions.
In the early 1970s, the artist made sculptures for a brief period, using 'poor' materials in the spirit of the time: for example, he installed a pile of newspapers next to a pile of blank sheets of paper, or he set a wooden beam upright on a rope, which he then strained between two walls. The 1972 sculpture we mentioned earlier takes us back to A.G. (Avant Garde), a group cofounded by Ha Chong-Hyun, within which he played a prominent role. All these works inevitably bring to mind Western artists of the same generation or active during the same years: to mention just a few, those gathered around Arte Povera, Post-minimalism, Supports/Surfaces, who used similar processes. A.G. also coincides with Japanese Mono-ha, which emerged around the same time and shared many striking similarities2. All these movements coexisted, more or less related to one another, or completely independent from one another, if not ignorant of the others’ existence. In Korea like anywhere else, the Zeitgeist alone may as well explain these similar tendencies (to some extent at least).
However, the historical context in Korea was very different from that in Europe or the United States. On the one hand, student protests, anti-Vietnam War manifestations, prolongations of the Cold War and a certain economic prosperity, which the first oil crisis was about to shake, were happening in the West. On the other hand, after having endured Japanese occupation and a devastating war with its Northern region, Korea was about to enter two decades of dictatorship, which would see a spectacular economic growth. During this difficult period for intellectuals and artists, an autonomous Korean art would eventually rise. Indeed, from then on, two opposite trends coexisted turning their back on each other, like two sides of the same coin: a politically engaged figurative trend and a predominantly monochromatic abstract one. The artists associated with the latter also sought to retrieve their nation’s cultural identity by promoting Korean traditions, yet they remained open to the world and modernity. Thus, contemporary abstraction in Korea was founded on a dichotomy.
1. This tendency in Korea is actually referred to as 'Korean Informel.'
2. An actual link between these two groups is unquestionably Lee Ufan. As a Korean living in Japan, he is associated with both Mono-ha, being somewhat its theorist, and Korean Monochrome painting, a group that we now refer to as Dansaekhwa.
Korean artists Choi Byung-So and Lee Kang-So are holding simultaneous solo exhibitions at the Musée d'art moderne de Saint-Étienne Métropole, on view through to 16 October 2016. Though their names are most commonly associated with Dansaekhwa, the artists maintain distinct styles that situate their practices outside of the...
We have sent you an email containing a link to reset your password. Simply click the link and enter your new password to complete this process.
Scan the QR Code via WeChat to follow Ocula's official account.