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b. 1964, South Korea

Lee Bul Biography

Provocative and inventive, Lee Bul (이불) is one of the leading Korean artists of her generation. Working across performance, sculpture, painting, installation and video, she is most known for her monstrous sculptures, cyborgs, and utopian landscapes. Born to dissident parents during the military dictatorship of Park Chung-Hee in South Korea, Lee emerged in the 1990s through works that channelled the emotional impact of political persecution and restrictive gender roles into visual form. Since then, the artist has investigated human desires for perfection and stability and the implications of technology in the contemporary world.

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After completing her studies at Hongik University in 1987, Lee Bul embarked on her career as a performance artist on the streets of Korea and Japan. Donning soft wearable sculptures that were described as 'simultaneously alluring and grotesque' by Ikon Gallery, she addressed the themes of political instability and gender roles in a then—and still—very conservative and male-dominated Korean society.

In Cravings (1989), Lee transformed herself into a monstrous creature, whose tentacles and externalised internal organs alluded to the anxieties of the artist and her fellow citizens living under conditions fraught with government censorship and civil unrest. The performance later developed into the 'Monster' (1998–2011) series, in which the wearable sculptures evolved into freestanding statues.

Abortion, also performed in 1989, showed the artist hanging upside down from the ceiling and generated controversy for Lee Bul's bold critique of Korean traditions regarding women's bodies and sexuality. Around this time, Lee also participated in the founding of Museum, an underground collective of avant-garde artists, performers and musicians in Seoul whose members are still influential in Korea today.

Lee Bul's artwork from the 1990s explores the human body in its relation to beauty, life, death, and technology. Majestic Splendor (1997)—an installation created for The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York—consisted of a decaying fish adorned with sequins, beads and flowers in a glass display case. Although the exhibition closed prematurely due to its smell, curator Harald Szeemann invited Lee to recreate it in the Lyon Biennale that same year. In a powerful visualisation of the metamorphosis from the beautiful to the sickening, Lee highlighted the inevitable cycle of life and death.

Lee Bul's iconic 'Cyborg' (1997–2011) series examines the human desire for the perfect body. Cyborg Red and Cyborg Blue, both completed in 1997 as a pair, show silicon casts of female figures based on Greco-Roman statues with machine-like body parts. Because Lee's cyborgs often appear as female, they have been regarded as a critique of the social expectation for women to have idealised bodies.

However, Lee has shown that her concerns extend to humankind at large in her karaoke installations such as Gravity Greater than Velocity (1999) and Live Forever (2002). Safely tucked in the empty karaoke capsules and pods, the human body is reduced to its sensory functions—technology may be alluring, but humans have reason to be alarmed about its advancements.

In the new millennium, Lee Bul shifted away from the body to human desires for utopia. Architectural sculptures, drawings, and installations exploring utopia form the crux of Utopia Saved (2020), the artist's solo exhibition at Manage Central Exhibition Hall, St Petersburg, that was featured in an Ocula Photolog. Among the works on view was the 'Mon grand récit' series, ongoing since 2005, which features futuristic ruins and landscapes comprised of small-scale railways, LED signs, and architectural structures. Writing for Ocula Magazine in November 2020, Stephanie Bailey noted that the exhibition 'is as much about sensing utopia's textures as it is about feeling its loss'.

Lee also began to incorporate reflective materials in her architectural installations, most notably in After Bruno Taut (Devotion to Drift) (2013)—a floating palace of crystal beads, chains and mirrors. Inspired by the futuristic ideals and works of Bruno Taut, a 20th-century German architect and the creator of the Glass Pavilion, Lee uses reflectivity to allude to utopian ideals as well as a means to examine military Korea, now several decades in the past.

In 2020, Lehmann Maupin organised the first solo exhibition of Lee Bul's paintings in Hong Kong at Hong Kong Spotlight by Art Basel. The presentation, which focused on Lee's 'Perdu' series of paintings made with a mixture of mother of pearl and paint, was included in Ocula Magazine's 'Hong Kong Spotlight: Six Artists to Watch'.

Lee Bul Solo Exhibitions include:

Interlude: Perdu, Lehmann Maupin, New York (2019); Lee Bul: Crash, Martin Gropius-Bau, Berlin (2018); Lee Bul: Crashing, Hayward Gallery, London (2018); After Bruno Taut, Thaddeus Ropac, London (2017); Lee Bul, Art Sonje Center, Seoul (2016); Lee Bul_: Aubade III_, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2015); Lee Bul, PKM Gallery, Seoul (2015); MMCA Hyundai Motor Series 2014: Lee Bul, National Museum of Art, Seoul (2014); From me, belongs to you only, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2012).

Lee Bul Group Exhibitions include:

Objects of Desire: Surrealism and Design 1924–Today, CaixaForum Barcelona (2020); Phantom Plane, Cyberpunk in the Year of the Future, Tai Kwun Contemporary, Hong Kong (2019); Negotiating Boundaries, Korean Culture Centre UK, London (2019); Five Artists: Sites Encountered, M+, Hong Kong (2019); The Nature Rules: Dreaming of Earth Project, Hara Art Museum, Tokyo (2019).

Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2020


Lee Bul Featured Artworks

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Civitas Solis III11 by Lee Bul contemporary artwork
Lee BulCivitas Solis III11, 2015Acrylic mirror, plywood, and galvanising on nickel plated aluminium frame
182 x 122 x 14.5 cm
Lehmann Maupin Contact Gallery
Study for Civitas Solis IV (Object #17) by Lee Bul contemporary artwork
Lee BulStudy for Civitas Solis IV (Object #17), 2016Cast stainless steel
10 x 15 x 9.8 cm
Asia Art Archive
Perdu XXXVIII by Lee Bul contemporary artwork
Lee BulPerdu XXXVIII, 2020Mother of pearl, acrylic paint on wooden base panel, steel frame
160 x 120 x 8 cm
Lehmann Maupin Contact Gallery
Chiasma by Lee Bul contemporary artwork
Lee BulChiasma, 2005Hand-cut polyurethanepanels on aluminumarmature, acrylic coating
195 x 383 x 395 cm
PKM Gallery Enquire
Perdu XXXII by Lee Bul contemporary artwork
Lee BulPerdu XXXII, 2019Mother of pearl, acrylic paint on lacquered wooden base panel, steel frame; diptych, framed
83.3 x 126.6 x 6.6 cm
PKM Gallery Enquire
Perdu XXXI by Lee Bul contemporary artwork
Lee BulPerdu XXXI, 2019Mother of pearl, acrylic paint on lacquered wooden base panel, steel frame; triptych, framed
189.5 x 83.3 x 6.6 cm
PKM Gallery Enquire
Perdu XXII by Lee Bul contemporary artwork
Lee BulPerdu XXII, 2019Mother of pearl, acrylic paint on lacquered wooden base panel, steel frame (diptych)
226.8 x 163.3 x 6.6 cm (incl frame)
Lehmann Maupin Contact Gallery
Perdu XXVIIII by Lee Bul contemporary artwork
Lee BulPerdu XXVIIII, 2019Mother of pearl, acrylic paint on lacquered wooden base panel, steel frame, diptych
163.3 x 226.8 cm
Lehmann Maupin Contact Gallery

Lee Bul Current & Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Mandy El-Sayegh & Lee Bul, Mandy El-Sayegh & Lee Bul at Lehmann Maupin, 536 West 22nd Street, New York
Open Now
25 February–10 April 2021 Mandy El-Sayegh & Lee Bul Lehmann Maupin536 West 22nd Street, New York
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Lehmann Maupin Palm Beach at 440 S. County Road, Palm Beach, Florida, USA
Closing Soon
1 December 2020–28 February 2021 Group Exhibition Lehmann Maupin Palm Beach 440 S. County Road, Palm Beach, FloridaPalm Beach
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Inside Out: The Body Politic at Lehmann Maupin, Seoul
Closed
2 July–22 August 2020 Group Exhibition Inside Out: The Body Politic Lehmann MaupinSeoul

Lee Bul Represented By

Lehmann Maupin contemporary art gallery in 536 West 22nd Street, New York, USA Lehmann Maupin New York, Hong Kong, London, Seoul
PKM Gallery contemporary art gallery in Seoul, South Korea PKM Gallery Seoul

Lee Bul In Ocula Magazine

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Lee Bul: 
Utopia Saved Ocula Photolog Lee Bul: Utopia Saved

Lee Bul's first solo exhibition in Russia, Utopia Saved (13 November 2020–31 January 2021), is held at St. Petersburg's Manege Central Exhibition Hall. Curated by Sunjung Kim and SooJin Lee, the show brings together environmental installations, architectural sculptures, and design drawings created since 2005.

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Hong Kong Spotlight: Six Artists to Watch Ocula Insight Hong Kong Spotlight: Six Artists to Watch By Stephanie Bailey, Hong Kong

Hong Kong Spotlight is Art Basel's first physical presentation in 2020.

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Lee Bul's Utopian Encounters with the Russian Avantgarde Ocula Feature Lee Bul's Utopian Encounters with the Russian Avantgarde By Stephanie Bailey, St. Petersburg

Lee Bul's first solo in Russia is a first-time encounter between the artist's works and those of the Russian avantgarde.

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Emi Eu: ‘We have to look at Southeast Asia as one market’ Ocula Conversation Emi Eu: ‘We have to look at Southeast Asia as one market’ By Stephanie Bailey, Singapore

STPI's Emi Eu reflects on S.E.A. Focus, an STPI project platforming artists and galleries from Southeast Asia, in the wake of Art Stage's decline in 2019.

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Lee Bul In Related Press

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The Body in Lee Bul’s Oeuvre: an Opaque Shell Related Press The Body in Lee Bul’s Oeuvre: an Opaque Shell 17 February 2020, The Artro

The 1990's, the last decade before the new millennium, was a turbulent period, surpassing any other turn of the century in terms of major upheavals. Large changes occurred across the board, at all levels of society.

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Venice Biennale empowers women, diversity Related Press Venice Biennale empowers women, diversity 12 May 2019, Korea Times

This year, all Koreans at the Venice Biennale are women. The Korean Pavilion is curated by Kim Hyun-jin and three participating artists Jung Eun-young, also known as siren eun young jung, Jane Jin Kaisen and Nam Hwa-yeon. At the main exhibition, the works of three Korean women artists Lee Bul, Suki Seokyeong Kang and Anicka Yi are on view.

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Lee Bul at Hayward Gallery, London Related Press Lee Bul at Hayward Gallery, London 10 July 2018, ArtReveiw

Feminist science-fiction has long played on the idea that women are liberated when humans are confronted with other intelligences.

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Lee Bul’s Intergalactic Feminist World Ignites Hayward Related Press Lee Bul’s Intergalactic Feminist World Ignites Hayward 30 May 2018, Elephant

The sci-fi imagination of Lee Bul literally lit up the Hayward Gallery last night, as one of the artist’s works set on fire just an hour before the private view was scheduled to occur. It was an appropriate moment for the exhibition, as the works look as though they have smashed into the gallery from another cosmos.

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Lee Bul In Video & Audio

2016 artist interview series: Lee Bul Related Video & Audio 2016 artist interview series: Lee Bul 20 May 2016, Biennale of Sydney

Artist Lee Bul reveals her thinking and inspiration behind her site-specific installation at the Turbine Hall of the Industrial Precinct on Cockatoo Island, titled Willing To Be Vulnerable (2015–16) for the Embassy of the Real.

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