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Havana Biennial 2019: Constructing the Possible Ocula Report Havana Biennial 2019: Constructing the Possible 17 Apr 2019 : Federica Bueti for Ocula

I first visited Havana in November 2016, a few days after Fidel Castro died, and just under a year before Hurricane Irma hit Cuba in September 2017. Since then, much has changed, including the hand-painted signs that punctuate the journey from the airport to the city centre, which today do not celebrate the revolution so much as the 'Unidad y...

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Andrew Stahl and Guo Xiaohui Ocula Conversation Andrew Stahl and Guo Xiaohui

The exhibition Beyond Boundaries at Somerset House in London (12 March–2 April 2019) marked the historic contributions of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing (CAFA) and the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London, on the occasion of their 100th and 150th anniversaries, respectively. Spread across several rooms of Somerset House's...

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The National 2019: New Australian Art Ocula Report The National 2019: New Australian Art 13 Apr 2019 : Elyse Goldfinch for Ocula

The National 2019: New Australian Art features work by 70 contemporary Australia-based artists split across three venues: the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW), Carriageworks, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA) (29 March–21 July 2019), as curated by Isobel Parker Philip, curator of photographs at AGNSW; Daniel Mudie Cunningham,...

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Yun Hyong-keun

(1928 - 2007), South Korea

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.

E-fahn Wang | Ocula | 2018
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Featured Artworks

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Burnt Umber & Ultramarine by Yun Hyong-keun contemporary artwork Yun Hyong-keunBurnt Umber & Ultramarine, 1982 Oil painting on Hanji
48 x 63 cm
PKM Gallery
Blue-Umber by Yun Hyong-keun contemporary artwork Yun Hyong-keunBlue-Umber, 1979 Oil on linen
210 x 88 cm
PKM Gallery
Burnt Umber & Ultramarine by Yun Hyong-keun contemporary artwork Yun Hyong-keunBurnt Umber & Ultramarine, 2001 Oil on linen
97.2 x 145.8 cm
Simon Lee Gallery
Burnt Umber & Ultramarine Blue by Yun Hyong-keun contemporary artwork Yun Hyong-keunBurnt Umber & Ultramarine Blue, 1992 Oil on linen
130.4 x 162.4 cm
Tang Contemporary Art
Burnt Umber & Ultramarine by Yun Hyong-keun contemporary artwork Yun Hyong-keunBurnt Umber & Ultramarine, 1996 Oil on linen
130.3 x 97 cm
Tang Contemporary Art
Burnt Umber & Ultramarine by Yun Hyong-keun contemporary artwork Yun Hyong-keunBurnt Umber & Ultramarine, 1986 Oil painting on Hanji
82.5 x 52.5 cm
Simon Lee Gallery
Burnt Umber & Ultramarine by Yun Hyong-keun contemporary artwork Yun Hyong-keunBurnt Umber & Ultramarine, 1995 Oil painting on Hanji
104 x 73 cm
Simon Lee Gallery
Umber-Blue '76-M27' by Yun Hyong-keun contemporary artwork Yun Hyong-keunUmber-Blue '76-M27', 1976 Oil paint on canvas
230 x 183 cm
Axel Vervoordt Gallery

Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, Painting and Existence at Tang Contemporary Art, Hong Kong
Closed
15 February–16 March 2019 Group Exhibition Painting and Existence Tang Contemporary Art, Hong Kong
Contemporary art exhibition, Yun Hyong-keun, Yun Hyong-keun at Simon Lee Gallery, London
Closed
25 October–24 November 2018 Yun Hyong-keun Yun Hyong-keun Simon Lee Gallery, London
Contemporary art exhibition, Yun Hyong-keun, Oil on Hanji 1973-1989 at PKM Gallery, Seoul
Closed
1 December 2017–4 January 2018 Yun Hyong-keun Oil on Hanji 1973-1989 PKM Gallery, Seoul

Represented By

In Ocula Magazine

Beyond Influence: The Legacy Of Korean Monochrome Painting Ocula Report Beyond Influence: The Legacy Of Korean Monochrome Painting 14 Oct 2014 : Stephanie Bailey for Ocula

“One thing to remember about Tansaekhwa is that it was never an official movement," Joan Kee, Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, explains in an email interview. "There was no manifesto, no declaration—not even a series of exhibitions consciously organized under that...

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In Related Press

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YUN HYONG-KEUN, NATIONAL MUSEUM OF MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY ART Related Press YUN HYONG-KEUN, NATIONAL MUSEUM OF MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY ART ArtAsiaPacific : 1 December 2018

When Donald Judd asked Yun Hyong-Keun what art is, the latter responded that art is 'artless and bland.' To some viewers of Yun's paintings—which have been associated with Korean Dansaekhwa—these words may serve as curious descriptors of the late artist's striking, monochromatic canvases.

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A Review of Yun Hyong-keun at David Zwirner, New York Related Press A Review of Yun Hyong-keun at David Zwirner, New York Arteviste : 27 January 2017

Yun began developing his characteristic, nearly monochromatic, paintings in the late 60's and early 70's by placing canvas on the floor of his studio and adding stripes of umber and/or ultramarine pigment diluted with turpentine that bled across the canvas. (Umber is the color of earth; ultramarine the color of water.)

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Monochrome and minimalism: 6 Dansaekhwa artists in New York Related Press Monochrome and minimalism: 6 Dansaekhwa artists in New York Art Radar : 23 May 2016

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...

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Yun Hyong-keun at Blum & Poe Related Press Yun Hyong-keun at Blum & Poe The Brooklyn Rail : 3 February 2016

Comprising a survey of twelve paintings, this exhibition presents a thoughtful overview of Yun Hyong-keun’s (1928 – 2007) quietly compelling work. Yun was a central figure within the Korean group of monochrome painters known as Dansaekhwa that emerged during the mid 1960s. A characteristic shared by the members of this group is a...

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