'A Picture of War is Not War', we read in Hito Steyerl's iconic film November (2004), an essayistic Super 8 film tackling the definition of terrorism constructed around the figure of the artist's best friend Andrea Wolf, who was killed as a terrorist in 1998 in Eastern Anatolia after she joined the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party). Mixing documentary...
There has been a flurry of triennial and biennial art activity in Japan this year. The Aichi Triennale opened in Nagoya this August, sparking a national debate about the shutting down of a display of formerly censored works—the result of public backlash against a burnt image of Emperor Hirohito and a statue commemorating the women forced into...
Hans Hartung and Art Informel at Mazzoleni London (1 October 2019-18 January 2020) presents key works by the French-German painter while highlighting his connection with artists active in Paris during the 50s and 60s. In this video, writer and historian Alan Montgomery discusses Hartung's practice and its legacy.Born in Leipzig in 1904, Hans...
Dansaekhwa, or Korean monochrome art, is characterised by painting in a single colour, textured and with simplified images. Featured as a collateral event of the 56th Venice Biennale (2015), the art form has also generated interest in the western world through recent exhibitions such as From All Sides: Tansaekhwa on Abstraction (Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, 2014), Overcoming the Modern. Dansaekhwa: The Korean Monochrome Movement (Alexander Gray Associates, New York, 2014), and Lee Ufan: Marking Infinity (Guggenheim, New York, 2011). The burgeoning popularity of Dansaekhwa can also be seen through its success in auctions.
Ha Chong-Hyun Biography
Ha Chong-Hyun is a Korean artist known for his innovative approach to painting, and for having been a leading member of the Korean style of abstract painting known as Dansaekhwa. Roughly translated as 'monochrome painting', Dansaekhwa refers to the work of a group of loosely affiliated Korean artists—among them Lee Ufan, Park Seo-Bo, and Yun Hyong-keun—who in the 1970s pioneered an aesthetic that emphasises process, tactility, and surface.
Graduating with a BFA from Seoul's Hongik University in 1959, Ha began experimenting with geometric abstractions in the early stages of his career. White Paper for Urban Planning (1967) from the 'Urban Planning' series, for example, depicts angular shapes composed of straight lines and monochromatic gradients that echo decorative patterns found in traditional Korean architecture. In an interview with Ocula Magazine in 2017, the artist reflected that the series was inspired by the urban development that was then going on in Seoul, which led him to search for ways of creating 'modern works while incorporating something of my culture that has always been there'.
Ha's artworks are also marked by his use of inexpensive and quotidian materials, a trait he shared with many of his contemporaries working in post-war Korea. As the artist reflected in his interview with Ocula Magazine, he could not afford to produce large scales of only one type of work and wished to investigate the full range of materials available around him. In the installation Relationship 72-11 (1972), for example, Ha strung rope between two walls of a gallery and placed an upright wooden beam on top. He also incorporated barbed wire into his paintings, arranging it horizontally in Untitled 72-C (1972) or in a grid pattern in Work 73-15 (B) (1973). Burlap sack, which was dispatched by the United States for relief goods during and after the war in Korea, became one of his favoured canvases as well.
Around the same time as he was experimenting with burlap sacks and barbed wire, Ha began working with a method known as bae-ap-bub, which involves pushing paint through the back of the canvas. Though simple, this method allows for countless variations depending on the size of the pores in the fabric and the pressure with which the paint is applied. In his 'Conjunction' series (c 1970s–ongoing), Ha employs bae-ap-bub to create diverse surfaces that range from the vertical columns of light and darker shades of oil paint in Conjunction 79-11 (1979) to short, vertical strokes of white in Conjunction 05-171 (2005). Others, such as Conjunction 16-321 (2016), depict an array of short, angular marks that resemble the vowels of hangul (the Korean alphabet). Many 'Conjunction' paintings also foster a sense of dimensionality where the edges of paint congeal, as can be seen in Conjunction 14-136 (2014) and Conjunction 18-07 (2018), among others.
In his interview with Ocula Magazine, Ha explained that the word 'conjunction' 'is really the essence of my work: the conjunction between the materials—oil paint and hemp cloth—and my spirit and performance.' This concern with the intersection between the act of painting and the physicality of the materials that go into it is deeply in alignment with the philosophies of the Dansaekhwa artists at large.
Ha exhibits internationally, including at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gwacheon (2012); Gyeongnam Art Museum, Changwon (2004); and Fondazione Mudima, Milan (2003), among others. In 2015, his work featured in the exhibition Dansaekhwa, a Collateral Event of the 56th Venice Biennale. Widely recognised for his contribution to contemporary art in Korea, Ha served as the chairman of Korean Avant-Garde Association between 1969 and 1974, commissioner and advisor to the inaugural Gwangju Biennale in 1995, and the director of Seoul Museum of Art from 2001 to 2006.
Kwon Young-Woo (권영우) was considered a pioneering figure in the development of Dansaekhwa (or the modern monochrome movement), a Korean painting tradition where artists work predominantly with paper. Born in Korea in 1926, Kwon graduated from Seoul National University’s first art school class in 1951 alongside his contemporaries Park No-Soo, Suh Se Ok, Chang Un-Sang, and Park Sae-Won. He died in 2013.
Throughout his career, Kwon explored the textural abilities of his chosen medium by scratching, tearing, and layering sheets of hanji (traditional Korean mulberry paper) onto canvas and manipulating the material into three-dimensional relief sculptures which were then decorated with ink painting. Later in his career, Kwon removed any trace of representation and worked solely with white paper.
Kwon’s skill in altering a traditional material to reflect themes of Abstract Expressionism has led to him being recognised as one of Korea’s most groundbreaking artists. Recently, the artist’s works have been exposed to new audiences due to a resurgence in interest of the Dansaekhwa movement.
Kwon Young-Woo has been included in recent exhibitions such as From All Sides: Tansaekhwa on Abstraction at Blum & Poe, Los Angeles (2014); Dansaekhwa at Kukje Gallery, Seoul (2015); When Process Becomes Form: Dansaekhwa and Korean Abstraction at the Boghossian Foundation, Brussels (2016); and Dansaekhwa and Minimalism at Blum & Poe, New York (2016).
In 2007, six years before his death in 2013, Kwon donated 70 of his most important works to the Seoul Museum of Art.
As a progenitor of the Japanese Mono-ha, or School of Things, movement, Lee Ufan led a loose constellation of artists who championed the use of ordinary materials during the late 1960s, significantly altering the course of 20th-century Japanese art. Lee's dense yet poetic text, Beyond Being and Nothingness—A Thesis on Sekine Nobuo, provided something of an intellectual foundation for the movement. The group eschewed representation, choosing instead to zero in on the relationship between perception and material. Its main aim—as expressed by its key figures—was to demonstrate the fluid coexistence of objects, ideas and encounters.
In 1956, Lee began studying painting at the College of Fine Arts at Seoul National University, but after two months he relocated to Yokohama, Japan, where he went on to earn a degree in philosophy in 1961. During this period, the restrained painting style of his student work was in formal and conceptual opposition to the free expression of Gutai—the performance-oriented post-war Japanese art movement that anticipated Fluxus and inspired the work of Yves Klein, Allan Kaprow and Nam June Paik.
In the mid-1970s Lee became one of the major exponents of Korean Dansaekhwa ('Monochrome Painting')—a style that became one of the country's most important artistic developments in the 20th century—and the first from that period to bring the movement to Japan. Lee, along with the group's other loosely connected members, emphasised materiality as a means of producing relationships that link objects to viewers. In the repetitive gestural marks of his work, abstraction served to register the body's movement as well as the passage of time. With an eye towards modernist abstraction's best-known devices—seriality, gesture, grids and monochrome—Lee's paintings pushed the bounds of formalist paradigms. And through their affinity to and correspondence with Euro-American art, they proffered new forms of connection across seemingly incompatible ideological positions.
In his early painting series, 'From Point' and 'From Line' (1972–84), Lee combined ground mineral pigment with animal-skin glue, typical of the traditional Japanese Nihonga painting in which he had trained. Each fastidious brushstroke consisted of multiple simultaneous layers, and where the brush had first made contact with the support, the paint was thick, creating a 'ridge' that would gradually lighten. Rarely did Lee's brush touch the canvas separately more than three times, yet this economic application created a feeling of dynamic tension between gesture and picture plane characteristic of his paintings. In the early 1990s, Lee carried this through to his 'Correspondence' paintings, which consisted of a minimal number of grey-blue brushstrokes, applied on large white surfaces.
Lee's more recent and ongoing 'Dialogue' series, begun around 2006, considers philosophical notions of emptiness and fullness. These exist within a lineage of work that dates back to earlier works such as the 'From Line', 'From Point' and 'From Winds' series, which in the 1970s marked his transition from relatively small strokes predominantly in blue and orange to the intermixing of those colours and the predominance of grey tones from the 1980s.
Today Lee views his pristine white supports, enlivened by touches of paint, and his large site-specific sculptures made from stone and iron as materially opposed to the virtual nature of screen-based media that has now become so ubiquitous.
Although he is highly regarded as a painter, one of Lee's best-known series is 'Relatum' (1968–), three-dimensional groups of rocks dispersed with industrial materials such as steel sheets, glass panes and rubber. Lee began producing them as a response to 1960s Japan and its intensely turbulent socio-political climate. In each of these assemblages, the artist emphasises how constituent parts sit in relation to one another, to space and to surrounding objects, going beyond the enclosed network that is implied by the term 'sculpture' and its more conventional examples.
As well as being the recipient of numerous awards and honours, Lee is also represented in numerous prominent collections around the world. These include The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Tate Modern, London; The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto; and The National Museum of Art, Osaka.
In 2010, the Tadao Ando-designed Lee Ufan Museum was opened at the Benesse Art Site on the Japanese Island of Naoshima, dedicated to the artist and his legacy. Lee—a professor emeritus at Tama Art University, Tokyo, where he taught from 1973 to 2007—divides his time between France and Japan.
One of the most significant artists in modern Korean history, Park Seo-Bo was born in 1931 in Yecheon, Gyeongbuk, South Korea. As a young artist in the 1950s, Park was among the first to introduce abstraction to Korean art and is best known as a founding figure of the art movement, Dansaekhwa.
Dansaekhwa, also known as baeksaekpa (the School of White), refers to a group of paintings in Korean art that began to appear in the late 1950s and fully emerged in the art world by the mid-1970s. Translated as 'monochrome paintings', Dansaekhwa is characterised by minimal colour palettes, repetitive gestures and manipulation of the canvas or paper through soaking, tearing, pulling and other techniques. Park and contemporaries such as Lee Ufan, Chung Chang-Sup and Kwon Young-Woo began incorporating abstract motifs and unconventional techniques in their works as a reaction against the prevailing academicism. Dansaekhwa was also a response to the unstable conditions in the country at the time; 35 years of Japanese Occupation and the Korean War had been replaced by a conspicuous American presence. Many artists expressed their perception of a changing Korean cultural identity through paintings that wedded Western and Eastern techniques. Despite its introduction as a 'movement' to the West, however, Dansaekhwa was never an official movement and the term itself was coined in retrospect by the curator and scholar Yoon Jin Sup in 2000.
Although abstraction in Korean art was influenced by North American Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism, Park's paintings are not an uncritical absorption of outside influences but rather a negotiation between the traditional and the new. 'Ecriture'—his most famous and ongoing series conceived in the 1960s—uses Western Modernist techniques of painting on traditional Korean hanji paper. In early works, Park used a pencil or a stylus to make repetitive marks on the canvas, but since the 1980s he has been manipulating the pulp of hanji paper while its surface is wet. Myobop—as 'Ecriture' paintings are known in the Korean language—means 'law of drawing', a phrase that reveals the artist's interest in Taoist and Buddhist philosophies. Further nicknamed 'the journey of the hand', the process of repetition eliminates individual gestures and becomes one of meditation.
Paintings in the 'Ecriture' series have experienced stylistic changes over the years. Park's work from the 1990s and early 2000s were black and white, two of the most important colours in East Asian philosophy—black represents time and pure emptiness, while white alludes to death spirituality and the void. Since 2002, Park has incorporated other colours as well, using acrylic paint to mould linear patterns on the wet pulp of hanji paper. From a distance, these monochrome paintings appear to be one colour or empty. Borrowing the language of abstraction, rejecting painterly codes from Western Modernism and combining these methodologies with Eastern philosophies, Park attempts to capture and convey the 'ideal of emptiness or "no mind"', according to a press release from Tina Kim Gallery's 2016 solo exhibition of Park's work.
Park has also led an impressive career as an educator of art in South Korea. Between 1962 and 1994, he taught as a professor at Hongik University, Seoul—one of the most prestigious institutions of art in the country and his alma mater (from which he graduated in 1954). In 1986 he became the Dean of the College of Fine Arts, a position he would hold until 1990. Park continues to participate in the contemporary Korean art scene through his Seo-Bo Art and Cultural Foundation, Seoul-based and founded in 1994.
Park's work has been recognised both nationally and internationally. He has exhibited in many institutions across Asia, the USA and Europe, and has exhibited twice at the Venice Biennale (2015, 1988). Referred to as the father of Dansaekhwa, Park's paintings have been included in several group exhibitions, including When process becomes form: Dansaekhwa and Korean abstraction, the Boghossian Foundation, Brussels (2016); Dansaekhwa and Minimalism, Blum & Poe, Los Angeles (2016); and Dansaekhwa, a Collateral Event of the 56th Venice Biennale (2015). Park was awarded the President's Citation in 1972 and received the Silver Crown Cultural Medal for his services toward the advancement of contemporary art in Korea in 2011.
Yun Hyong-keun (윤형근) was a prominent figure of the modern Korean art movement known as Dansaekhwa, whose monumental, abstract artworks were theoretically rooted in traditional Korean ideals and are stylistically evocative of modern Western abstraction. The term Dansaekhwa (or 'monochrome painting') refers to a visual style maintained by a loose constellation of Korean artists who created radically experimental paintings between the 1960s and 80s (other major figures include Lee Ufan, Park Seo-bo, and Chung Sang-hwa). Having lived through one of the most devastating eras of Korean history—tainted by successive periods of occupation, domestic turmoil, and postwar dictatorship—Yun channelled his traumas into his artistic practice and became a champion of the modern Korean art canon.
Born in Cheongju while Korea was still under repressive Japanese rule, Yun's coming of age paralleled the end of Japanese colonisation (1910–1945) and the beginning of the Korean War (1950–1953). In 1947, Yun enrolled in the College of Fine Arts at Seoul National University (SNU) where he met Kim Whanki, his mentor and later father-in-law. Yun forged his early style under the guidance of Kim, creating large, brightly coloured, and lyrical compositions that were animated by an array of spheres taking form within dense encrustations of paint. Yun received his BFA from Seoul's Hongik University in 1957, held his first solo show at the Press Center Gallery in Seoul in 1966, and quickly gained international recognition.
Despite his success, the three decades of Yun's life following his move to Seoul were punctuated by hostile encounters with the Korean government, including four imprisonments and a narrow escape from execution by firing squad. His first incarceration occurred at SNU in 1949, when he was detained and expelled for participating in a protest against the US Army's involvement in the University's establishment. He was arrested again in 1950 when the South Korean government's Bodo League began detaining and executing those with affiliations—however tenuous—with the North. After escaping execution, Yun was forced to work for the North Korean army; in 1956, he was accused of communist activities for doing so and was incarcerated yet again. Finally, in 1973, while working as a high school art teacher, he spoke out against the unethical admission of an unqualified student who had connections to the Korean CIA and was arrested two days later for wearing a Mariner's cap similar to those worn by Lenin and Mao.
Ultimately, it was the culmination of these turbulent incidents that propelled Yun to devote himself to art at age 45 and catalysed the development of his mature style. Over the course of the next four decades, Yun demonstrated a near-obsessive commitment to his craft, creating countless paintings for a series of poignant meditations titled 'Burnt Umber and Ultramarine'. After 1973, his art became deeply personal, with Yun once divulging in an artist statement: 'Even though the period of youth during one's twenties should be great, I spent mine living in a nightmare. Thus, the warm and beautiful colours disappeared from my works and were replaced with dark and heavy hues.'
Yun restricted his palette to somber earth tones by meticulously superimposing and blending multiple coats of burnt umber (rusty red) and ultramarine (deep blue) oil paints. To him, these two colours represent earth and heaven; the artist referred to his monumental works as 'the gate of heaven and earth.' Yun diligently deposited layers of pigment onto raw cotton or linen, creating nebulous rectilinear pillars that appear almost black. Then, he diluted the paint with turpentine until it fused with the cloth. Using this method, Yun sought to endow his works with an ethereal, fearsome quality reminiscent of the powerful forces of nature.
The tragedy of the Gwangju Massacre in 1980 initiated another development in Yun's style. Reflecting his anger toward the political climate, Yun's recurring black pillars no longer stood vertically, but diagonally and horizontally, as if they were falling or collapsing. In the 1990s, these amorphous dark forms evolved once more, becoming more prominent in his overall compositions and exhibiting more rigidly defined outer lines. Yun continued producing these 'gates of heaven and earth' until his death in 2007.
Over the course of his life, Yun held numerous solo exhibitions in South Korea and Japan and showed his works in Taiwan, France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and Belgium, among others. He also participated in several biennials, including the São Paulo Biennial (1969, 1975); the Venice Biennale (1995); and the Gwangju Biennale (2000). Yun's work continues to be shown internationally. In 2018, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul organised Yun Hyong Keun, a retrospective of his lifework.
Blum & Poe is pleased to present the second installment of the traveling exhibition Dansaekhwa and Minimalism, the first survey of Korean monochromatic painting with American Minimalism.
Consisting of more than twenty paintings and sculptures dating from the 1960s to the present, Dansaekhwa and Minimalism focuses on the most representative artists of each movement: Carl Andre, Chung Sang-hwa, Ha Chonghyun, Donald Judd, Kwon Young-woo, Lee Ufan, Sol LeWitt, Robert Mangold, Agnes Martin, Park Seobo, Robert Ryman, Richard Serra, and Yun Hyong-keun. Following the initial large-scale presentation in Los Angeles, this second iteration in New York presents a more intimate focus on smaller-scale works.
Emerging in the 1960s and transforming Korean art through the 1980s, Dansaekhwa literally means “monochrome painting,” but it is defined by the diverse array of methods employed as much as its minimal aesthetics. While Chung Sang-hwa created layered grids of cracked and chipped paint, Ha Chonghyun pushed viscous paint through the back of hemp, smearing and scraping the residue across the surface. Kwon Young-woo scratched, tore, punctured and sliced hanji paper, whereas Lee Ufan steadily and repeatedly pulled his brush down the canvas until the paint faded to nothing. Park Seobo dragged pencils through wet oil paint in rhythmic waves, while Yun Hyong-keun diluted paint with turpentine, allowing it to wash over and bleed into the canvas.
Like the Minimalists, the Dansaekhwa artists shared a desire to explore the object through its most basic material properties. However, they made their work amid starkly different conditions—enduring the material deprivations experienced in the decades after the Korean War and an oppressive political climate in which civil liberties were suspended in the name of national security. Nonetheless, they succeeded in overcoming these difficulties and by the early 1980s Dansaekhwa had become the first Korean artistic movement to be recognized internationally. Still, although the artists achieved renown in Seoul, Tokyo, and Paris, it was not until recently that they gained exposure in the United States, and thus the aesthetic and contextual similarities and differences with American Minimalism have yet to be examined.
This exhibition aims to highlight the subtle diversity of aesthetics and ideas explored in these two movements. Neither Dansaekhwa nor Minimalism was defined by a manifesto or a unified conceptual approach. Artists from both movements have expressed differing perspectives on the links between their practices and those of their immediate peers. In turn, the Korean artists variously acknowledge or disavow a relationship between Dansaekhwa and Minimalism. As the first major exhibition to bring these works together, this survey is intended as a non-didactic starting point for broader critical discussion.
The two-part exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue featuring original scholarship by leading authorities in the fields of Dansaekhwa and American Minimalism.
In September 2014, Blum & Poe presented From All Sides: Tansaekhwa on Abstraction, the first major overview of Korean monochromatic painting in North America. Curated by Joan Kee, Associate Professor of History of Art at the University of Michigan, and held at Blum & Poe in Los Angeles, the exhibition laid the groundwork for further in-depth presentations of the featured artists. Subsequently, in New York, Blum & Poe presented the first US solo exhibition of Ha Chonghyun in November 2014, followed by the first posthumous US solo exhibition of Yun Hyong-keun in November 2015. The first North American solo exhibition of the late Kwon Young-woo will be held at Blum & Poe, New York, in May 2016.
A series of Dansaekhwa painting exhibitions are taking place at art fairs and exhibitions in the art hubs of New York, Brussels and France, solidifying the Korean monochrome art movement’s presence in the Western art scene.Paintings of two acclaimed Dansaekhwa artists – Ha Chong-hyun and Kwon Young-woo – will be on view...
Opening at the Boghossian Foundation’s Villa Empain in Brussels this weekend is When Process Becomes Form: Dansaekhwa and Korean Abstraction, the first exhaustive exhibition of the Korean Dansaekhwa movement in Belgium, featuring some fifty works by seven of its leading proponents: Chung Chang-Sup, Chung Sang-Hwa, Ha Chong-Hyun, Kim Whanki,...
When Process Becomes Form is the first comprehensive presentation in Belgium of a number of seminal works by a generation of Korean artists whose negotiation of abstraction has become known as Dansaekhwa.The exhibition consists of some 50 paintings and works of paper drawn from the 1970s and the 1980s, along with a substantial array of archival...
The Dansaekhwa monochrome movement is a synthesis between traditional Korean spirit and Western abstraction, which emerged in the early to mid 1970s in Korea. The artists affiliated with the movement primarily share a restricted palette of neutral hues – mainly white, beige and black – from which the term dansaekhwa (‘single...
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