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Korean Galleries in Focus at SWAB Barcelona's Virtual Fair

By Sherry Paik  |  Seoul, 30 September 2020

JooLee Kang, Pattern of Life #4 (2013). Courtesy Art Delight.

Returning this year with its first virtual edition, SWAB Barcelona Art Fair (1–15 October 2020) will highlight four Seoul-based galleries as part of Focus Korea: One Four, Art Delight, Gallery Absinthe, and g.gallery.

Focus Korea builds on One Four's success at SWAB Barcelona Art Fair's last edition (26–29 September 2019), where the young gallery, founded in 2018, was included in the 'Emerging' sector alongside 11 other galleries. That year, One Four presented a solo booth featuring Ina Jang's Radiator Theatre (2019): lyrical photographs staged atop the artist's radiator of hand-cut painted forms posing against softly coloured backgrounds with shadows tailing behind them.

Ina Jang, disco (2018). Archival pigment print mounted on dibond (framed), edition of 1 of 1 + ap. 61 x 48.8 cm. Courtesy One Four.

As One Four's director Jason Shin noted in an email conversation, Korean galleries have seldom shown their artists in art fairs in Spain, and he was approached by SWAB project manager Verónica Segurato to introduce emerging Korean galleries and artists to the region.

At its online booth, One Four presents two artists from Korea and the U.K. respectively. Seoul-born Young-Rim Lee explores the spatial possibilities of wood, combining differently shaped and coloured segments of wood to create wall-mounted sculptures that resemble abstract paintings. Missing pieces—in the shape of a right triangle in Magenta Square (2016), and a rectilinear form in Grey Square (2019)—interrupt the flatness of each work, imbuing them with a sense of the architectural.

Young-Rim Lee, Grey Square (2019). Acrylic on wood. 95 x 100 cm. Courtesy One Four.

Architectural form is also a primary concern for London-based Liam Stevens, who is exhibiting recent works previously included in his solo show From Form at One Four (12 April–1 June 2019). In his usually monochrome paintings, such as the pale blue From Form #B04 (2019), Stevens disrupts the expanse of colour with tiny geometric shapes in a lighter shade to contemplate the relationship between the urban landscape and nature's fluid and expressive configurations.

Another young gallery that opened its doors in 2018 is Art Delight, which will present four Korean artists across three platforms: Sea Hyun Lee and JooLee Kang in Focus Korea; Kim Seoul and Yunsung Lee on SWAB's platform on Artsy; and a group presentation of all four artists at the gallery's physical location during the fair (Soul Seoul: contemporary art from Korea, 1–15 October 2020).

Liam Stevens, From Form #B04 (2019). Acrylic on canvas. 130 x 130 cm. Courtesy One Four.

Among the older artists in Focus Korea, Sea Hyun Lee is known for his 'Red Sansu' painting series that he began while studying in London in the early 2000s. Inspired by the view of North Korea that he saw through infrared night-vision goggles during his military service in South Korea, works like Between Red – 018SEP01 (2018) depict mountainous landscapes seemingly floating in the air, rendered entirely in shades of red.

JooLee Kang, by comparison, is of a younger generation, having graduated in 2011 from Tufts University in Massachusetts, U.S.A. Using ballpoint pens, Kang creates intricate drawings consisting of diverse fauna and flora, such as the kaleidoscopic Pattern of Butterflies #2 (2020) or Pattern of Life #8 (2020), which consider ecological and evolutionary changes in the environment.

Sea Hyun Lee, Between Red – 018SEP01 (2018). Courtesy Art Delight.

Kim Seoul and Yunsung Lee both work primarily with paint, though their subject matter differs. Kim, who held his first solo exhibition at Art Delight in 2019 (Uncolored, 5–28 September 2019), examines the fundamentals of painting—as material and process—in vibrantly coloured, abstract works. In After De Kooning No.5 (2017), blues and greens frame warmer colours in the centre that suggest a face, with two crude shapes for eyes and an open mouth.

By contrast, Yunsung Lee's oil painting Helios (2017) depicts the full-body portrait of a young woman in the style of Japanese manga, better known as manhwa in Korea. In an email with Ocula Magazine, Art Delight director Eunju Choi explains that works evoking such subcultures are usually dismissed in the Korean art world; she feels it's time that perception changes.

Yunsung Lee, Helios (2017). Oil on canvas. 193 x 130 cm. Courtesy Art Delight.

Founded in 2011, Gallery Absinthe is the oldest gallery in Focus Korea. Among the gallery's emerging talents are June Lee, who evades the boundary between art and craft by utilising colourful threads and fabrics to create human figures. In Bias (2015), a collection of reliefs of human faces, each work has a unique pattern and wears glasses with equally distinctive designs.

Painting on silk, Jungwon Yoon creates contemporary reinterpretations of a classic genre. In the 'Lost Sky' series (2019), the artist primarily paints with azurite pigment to capture chrysanthemum flowers, considered one of the 'Four Gentlemen' in traditional Chinese ink painting, in their last moments.

Jungwon Yoon, Lost Sky (2019). Courtesy Gallery Absinthe.

G.gallery, operating since 2013, presents two artists engaging with unusual materials. Jungmin Lee uses Microsoft PowerPoint to create animations that examine the subjective experience of perception. On view are Collected Time – City and Collected Time – Han River (both 2020), from her recent solo exhibition Re, Presentation (3 June–4 July 2020) at the gallery: two short videos based on the city of Seoul.

Likewise, Suyon Huh's mixed media drawings derive from the physical world. In works like Exploded Dolls (2019), which was included in Huh's solo show great exhibition 2019: Retrieve, Recycle, Revive (29 July–9 August 2019) at g.gallery, the artist turns paper waste, plastic, and aluminium into a paste with which she draws on hanji.

Jungmin Lee, Collected Time – Han River (2020) (still). Microsoft PowerPoint animation. Courtesy g.gallery.

Suyon Huh's g.gallery solo exhibition was also the first edition of the gallery's 'great exhibition' project, which aims to annually focus on artworks by young and emerging Korean artists.

While great exhibition 2020 had to be cancelled due to the ongoing difficulties with Covid-19, the gallery is hopeful for the new year. That hope resonates throughout Focus Korea, and beyond. —[O]

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