Arario Gallery Seoul is pleased to present 意味와 無意味 SENS ET NON-SENS: Works from 1974–2020, a solo exhibition by CHOI Byungso. The exhibition aims to reconsider CHOI's unique position as an artist, who encompasses the stylistic tendencies of not only Korean avant-garde experimental art from the late 1960s but also Dansaekhwa (Korean monochrome painting), within the art historical narrative. This comprehensive overview of the past fifty years of his practice juxtaposes early conceptual art from the 1970s with recent paintings and installation works. The title of this exhibition 意味와 無意味 SENS ET NON-SENS: Works from 1974–2020 is derived from CHOI's work Untitled (1998), which incorporates the book of the same name (1948) by Maurice Merleau-Ponty. The artist rejected the mainstream system existing in the arts and society as a whole and attempted to open new possibilities through dismantling the system. As such, CHOI's artistic practice is in touch with Merleau-Ponty's worldview that recognized the importance of both experience and physical experience and insisted on the meaninglessness of the world of reason and logic.
The 1960s, during which CHOI Byungso studied at university while beginning his practice as an artist, was a tumultuous era that simultaneously experienced the political turmoil of the May 16 military coup d'état and the Yusin Order (Revitalisation Reforms) as well as economic stability and hope from the Saemaul Undong (New Community Movement). While some young artists were able to come into contact with the experimental and social trends of international art; experimental works and exhibitions were subject to repression under the military dictatorship. Art that was widely accepted and exhibited in platforms such as the National Art Exhibition of the Republic of Korea was limited to abstract art, shifting in the direction of the monochromatic style. In contrast to the collective and organisational nature of monochromatic paintings that developed in the 70s, the experimental nature of art from the 1960s attempted to speak out both directly and indirectly against socio-political issues. Considered as a protest and threat against the government, the status of experimental art in Korea was naturally diminished due to the rigid cultural atmosphere. While inheriting certain formalities of abstract art, CHOI created an independent space between Dansaekhwa (Korean monochrome painting) and experimental art, leading the experimental mentality in artists to bring direct change to social inequality and injustice.
Various experimental attempts that had been underway since the late 1960s was driven by a resistance to formalist art, rebelling against the subsiding insularity of abstract art. CHOI's critical consciousness towards reality is reflected in the use of common materials including pencils, photographs, newspapers, chairs, and hangers. The base of his work is founded upon an attitude of anti-art, with the artist himself writing that "I deny the canvas, which acted not only as a place for both confirmation of will and experimentation of purism but also as the main support of art in the first half of the 20th century, and the pursuit of the aesthetics of illusionism created on the condition of the flatness of a tightly stretched canvas." By giving new meaning to worthless objects, hangers in this instance, CHOI attempts to overthrow the hierarchies of art that dwell on ideas such as medium purity and formalist modernism.
With many works being damaged or lost due to the flood in CHOI's Daegu studio, which he occupied between the 1970 and 80s, the exhibition introduces the only two remaining photography works by the artist from the 1970s. Untitled (1975), made using a page from the National Geographic, and Untitled 975000 (1975), combining four images of chairs with text, are both visual works that can be reinterpreted or understood through text. By interpreting or directing the visual image of photographs as a language, these works draw attention to accidental and inevitable deviations as a result of disparity in meaning. The viewers experience the limitations of language as a descriptive form to embody a certain reality or situation when faced with text accompanying the image of two birds playing or chairs with designated objects. In the 1970s, the artist made works, which expose differences in interpretation between visual language and text in order to show that visual art is not only a language in itself but also an independent domain of concepts.
Untitled 975000 (1975) was first exhibited at the Daegu Contemporary Art Festival in 1975 alongside other experimental works of video art, film, performance, and events. Together with the set of four photographs, CHOI exhibited Untitled 9750000-3 (1975), an installation work consisting of several folding chairs. The chairs, either grouped together or placed individually, were marked off with white masking tape with some sections of the floor marked off despite the absence of chairs. According to CHOI, this chair installation was conceived from the appearance of a classroom, which can be construed as the artist's musings about an individual that deviates from a group complying with a given set of rules. Presenting a relationship between speaker and listener as well as the difference in absence and existence through the use of empty chairs, the artist questions the role of the individual who remains only as a trace of people who have disappeared into the boundaries defined by society.
Recognized as CHOI Byungso's most representative body of work, the newspaper series is a testament to the artist's lifelong practice of experimental art. The artist erased surfaces of newspapers, a symbolic object of repression, to demonstrate his resistance against society. In doing so, he selected the most common and cheap materials to create his works. Today, the newspaper series can be understood as a process of emptying the self. CHOI's passion both as an artist and as an individual is further demonstrated through the use of everyday objects in the onsite installation work Untitled 016000 (2016). What started as an improvisational act of bending a hanger from the laundromat's found in the artist's closet, resulted in a seven by four meter installation of curved white lines filled with over 8,000 twisted hangers laid out across the floor to create a densely monochromatic space. These hangers bear a similar meaning to the role of pencils in CHOI's newspapers series. Acknowledging that both insignificant objects and actions constitute the essence of the time, the artist has come to a fundamental reflection on the nature of a society that produces art. 意味와 無意味 SENS ET NON-SENS: Works from 1974–2020 explores attributes of art and anti-art as well as the infinite possibilities between 'sense' and 'non-sense' through the experimental spirit of CHOI Byungso, whose works are a testament of an era.
Press release courtesy Arario Gallery.