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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. Though she has worked in 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 'Monster' (1998–2011), a series where 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, on the other hand, 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 females, they have been regarded as a critique of the social expectation for women to have idealised bodies. However, the artist has shown that her concerns extend to mankind at large in her karaoke installations, including 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 humankind has reason to be alarmed about its advancements.

In the new millennium, Lee shifted away from the body to human desires for utopia. 'Mon grand récit', an ongoing series since 2005, features futuristic ruins and landscapes comprised of small-scale railways, LED signs and architectural structures. Perched on skeletal frameworks, Lee's landscapes are a fragile mass that could collapse in a matter of seconds—as unrealised hopes often do in utopias. Lee has also begun 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 think about military Korea, now several decades in the past.

Lee Bul has regularly exhibited internationally at venues such as Art Sonje Center, Seoul (2012); Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2012); Domus Artium 2002, Salamanca (2007); Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney (2004); the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York (2002); and Musée d'Art Contemporain, Marseille (2002). Lee Bul's art is also part of many public collections. These include Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Mori Art Museum, Tokyo; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; and Yu-un, Obayashi Collection, Tokyo. She has had works included in the Biennale of Sydney (2016), Gwangju Biennale (2014), Taipei Biennial (2006–7) and Venice Biennale (1999). Today, the artist lives and works in Seoul, Korea.

Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2017

Lee Bul Featured Artworks

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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
Monster Drawings Series by Lee Bul contemporary artwork
Lee BulMonster Drawings Series, 2001Indian ink and cosmetics on paper
37 x 28.5 cm
Arario Gallery Contact Gallery
Amaryllis by Lee Bul contemporary artwork
Lee BulAmaryllis, 1999Polyurethane, aluminum, wire and enamel coating
210 x 120 x 180 cm
Arario Gallery 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 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 Recent Exhibitions

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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 Maupin, SeoulSeoul
Contemporary art exhibition, Koo Jeong A, Francis Alÿs, Kader Attia, Lee Bul, Martha Rosler, Hito Steyerl, Eternal Now at PKM Gallery, Seoul
Closed
21 November 2019–5 January 2020 Koo Jeong A, Francis Alÿs, Kader Attia, Lee Bul, Martha Rosler, Hito Steyerl Eternal Now PKM Gallery, SeoulSeoul
Contemporary art exhibition, Lee Bul, Interlude: Perdu at Lehmann Maupin, New York
Closed
7 November 2019–18 January 2020 Lee Bul Interlude: Perdu Lehmann Maupin, 536 West 22nd St, New York536 West 22nd Street, New York

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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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 and ahead of the launch of Singapore's new art fair, Art SG, in October 2020.

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In a Year of No Future: Cyberpunk at Hong Kong’s Tai Kwun Ocula Feature In a Year of No Future: Cyberpunk at Hong Kong’s Tai Kwun By Emily Verla Bovino, Hong Kong

In what was reportedly Tokyo 's cloudiest summer in over a century this July, Yoshiji Kigami, key animator of the cyberpunk classic Akira (1988), died in an arson attack that killed 35 people at Kyoto Animation. The attacker lit the fire with a lighter after dousing the studio with gasoline. 'They are always stealing', he explained in the...

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Sunjung Kim’s Real DMZ Project Interrogates the North and South Korea Divide Ocula Conversation Sunjung Kim’s Real DMZ Project Interrogates the North and South Korea Divide By Sherry Paik, Seoul

Ongoing since 2012, the Real DMZ Project interrogates the demilitarised zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea through annual, research-based exhibitions that bring together the works of Korean and international artists. Sunjung Kim, the independent curator behind the project, conceived the idea of exploring the DMZ while curating Japanese...

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‘An Opera for Animals’ at Rockbund Art Museum Ocula Feature ‘An Opera for Animals’ at Rockbund Art Museum By Penny Liu, Shanghai

An Opera for Animals was first staged at Para Site in Hong Kong between 23 March and 2 June 2019, with works by over 48 artists and collectives that use opera as a metaphor for modes of contemporary, cross-disciplinary art-making. The exhibition's second iteration takes up a large portion of the Rockbund Art Museum (RAM) in Shanghai (22...

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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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