Ahn Kyuchul is a multi-disciplinary Korean contemporary artist known for examining the interrelationships between objects and symbols, as well as humans and the function of art.Read More
Ahn Kyuchul graduated with a BFA in Sculpture from Seoul National University in 1977, and worked as a journalist for the arts magazine Gyegan Misul between 1980 and 1987. Works from this period consist of small-scale sculptures made from paper clay and plaster, which became known as 'narrative sculptures', as a response to the populist narratives proliferating in commercial art in Korea.
Ahn moved to Paris in 1987, and then to Germany, where he studied at State Academy of Fine Arts Stuttgart. He began to create 'object sculptures' out of ordinary objects, such as Solidarity Makes Freedom (1992), in which three coats are connected by their arms in solidarity and their tags make up the artwork's title.
Since the early years of his career, Ahn Kyuchul has been concerned with the function of art in a rapidly changing world. In the late 1990s, against the backdrop of an increasingly media-based world, Ahn turned to investigate the relationship between objects and their users by subverting expectations associated with commonplace items. Art, as the artist told Sisa Journal in 1996, could prompt conversations about contemporary phenomena to interrogate what is being produced and consumed.
In Life (2017), the equations painted on canvases—'LIFE + ART = LIFE' and 'LIFE - ART = LIFE'—seem to challenge art's relevance, suggesting that it does not add to or subtract significantly from life. Yet, it also demonstrates what art must do in order to contribute to the world. Writing for Art in Culture in 2020, Ahn notes that while art does not need to be political, it can enrich the present by 'fighting indifference, showing solidarity' and 'writing a letter for someone else', among other interventions.
A key theme that emerged from Ahn Kyuchul's long-standing exploration of art is the significance of communication, as seen in the two participatory projects at Invisible Land of Love, his major solo exhibition at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, in 2015. The project 1000 Scribes instructed 1,000 visitors to produce transcriptions from a given selection of novels. The second project, Wall of Memories, asked visitors to write notes relating to their memories and losses, which were then attached to a wall. The results of Wall of Memories were later compiled into a book.
Ahn's sculptures are often contradictory in their appearance. In Two Bicycles (2014), two bicycles are positioned side by side in opposite directions, so that it becomes impossible to mount either. A wooden chair has paddles in place of its legs in Paddle Chair, while a sheep wearing leopard skin ends up being neither in Leopard Sheep (both 2017). Expectations are never fulfilled, and objects are stuck in stagnant states of in-betweenness. Much like Ahn's attitude towards art, however, his sculptures emphasise the need for action and aspiring to push beyond the status quo.
From 1997 to 2020, Ahn taught at the Korea National University of Arts, Seoul, while contributing to the literary magazine Hyundae Munhak. In 2021, a collection of his writings and drawings were published under the title The Other Side of Things.
Ahn's survey exhibition The Other Side of Things (2021) at Kukje Gallery Busan saw the artist revisit some of his most iconic works. The coats of Solidarity Makes Freedom, for example, were rearranged into a circular form to prompt questions about the binaries between inside/outside and us/them. Where They Left — Stormy Ocean, which was conceived for the 2012 Gwangju Biennale, is a collection of 200 paintings of the ocean that Ahn placed randomly throughout the city of Gwangju and asked the public to return upon discovery. Around 20 paintings came back. For The Other Side of Things, Ahn remade the original paintings and displayed the series in its entirety.
Further solo exhibitions include Words Just for You, Kukje Gallery, Seoul (2017); Invisible Land of Love, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul (2015); All and but Nothing, HITE Collection, Seoul (2014); Drawn to the Rainbow, Gallery Skape, Seoul (2013); The One and Only Table, Bongsan Cultural Center, Daegu (2013); Forty-Nine Rooms, Rodin Gallery (2004); Trivialities, Artsonje Museum, Gyeongju (1999).
Selected group exhibitions include Seven Moons, Clayarch Gimhae Museum, Korea (2021); Jamunbak Museum Project, Gana Art Center, Seoul (2021); Art and Words 2020, Hakgojae Gallery, Seoul (2020); DMZ, Culture Station Seoul 284 (2019); April the Eternal Voyage, Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art, Ansan (2015); Variation of the Moon, Nam June Paik Art Centre, Yongin (2014); Roundtable, 9th Gwangju Biennale (2012).
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2021