Seoul Lowdown: Five Must-See Spring Exhibitions
Mark Di Suvero at Museum SAN. Courtesy Ocula. Photo: Annabel Downes/Ocula Advisory.
Reporting from South Korea, Ocula Magazine shares five must-see exhibitions around Seoul this spring.
While art world attention has swung to Gwangju and Busan, with the 14th Gwangju Biennale (7 April–9 July 2023) directed by Tate's Senior Curator, Sook-Kyung Lee receiving positive critical reviews, and art fair Art Busan (5–7 May 2023) about to open, noteworthy exhibitions have also quietly opened in South Korea's capital city.
Expect: a visual diary from a pioneer of Korean experimental art, from early pinhole-camera photographs begun in the mid-1990s to recent large-scale multimedia works.
Arario Gallery devotes three floors to the video, sounds, and photographs of Kim Soun-Gui. Living in France since 1971, Kim's multidisciplinary practice is driven by a keen interest in connections between Eastern teachings, notably the Taoist writings of Zhuangzi, and Western philosophies.
Among Kim's recent works is the installation Téléphone Arabe (2023), which is fashioned from drawings she made between 1987 and 1992 as a response to her concerns on the distortion of communication and media in the wake of the Iraq War.
Following the exhibition upstairs, a selection of her eponymous 'foolish photography' series can be seen. Captured through a pinhole camera and allowing light to enter over an extended period, the photographic works speak to the artist's raw and unflinching perception of the world.
Maurizio Cattelan: WE
Leeum Museum of Art, 60-16 Itaewon-ro 55-gil
31 January–16 July 2023
Expect: three decades of work from an art-world provocateur, including that banana-and-duct tape sculpture.
The controversial Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan's first museum exhibition in South Korea was met with much excitement in the capital. Crowds of young attendees waited in line to take the perfect shot.
Taxidermy animals, hyperrealistic sculptures, and a staggering wood replica of Vatican City's Sistine Chapel are among the 38 works featured in the artist's largest survey since his retrospective in 2011 at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Strewn with his characteristic humorous and cynical anecdotes, the exhibition reckons with our sense of being, how we become ourselves in the face of adversity, and how this leads to greater solidarity. Among notable works is La Nona Ora (The Ninth Hour) (1999), depicting Pope John Paul II knocked over by a meteorite, and Him (2001), a child-like sculpture of Hitler on his knees, hands clasped in repentance.
Cattelan's infamous banana sculpture Comedian (2019) is duct-taped on a nearby wall. First shown at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2019, the ephemeral sculpture became a focal point for the 'what is art?' debate. The controversy was only perpetuated as a Georgian 'performance artist' ate the artwork after it was purchased for US $120,000.
Heidi Bucher: Spaces are Shells, are Skins
Art Sonje Center, 87 Yulgok-ro 3-gil
28 March–25 June 2023
Expect: an exquisitely curated love letter to an important artist of the international neo-avant-garde, in which sculpture, film, textiles, and drawing coalesce.
Art Sonje Center hosts Heidi Bucher's first retrospective in Asia. Curated by Sunjung Kim, former president of Gwangju Biennale Foundation, the exhibition is imagined in two keywords: 'space' and 'body', encapsulating the artist's career-long dedication to resisting hierarchical structures and advocating for the body's liberation.
On entry, viewers are met with her architectural 'skinning' productions of the 1970s and 80s—hanging fabric latex sculptures created by applying latex to the surface of architectural spaces. Larger mouldings include The Parlour Office of Doctor Binswanger (1988), which skins an abandoned sanatorium in Kreuzlingen, Switzerland—a place whose history is marked by the suffering of women. Archival videos accompany the sculptures, allowing visitors to witness her painstaking process.
Upstairs, Bucher's training in fashion and textiles coalesce in her 1976 work, Dragonfly Lust (Costume), a pearlescent body sculpture made from wall skinnings modelled in the shape of a dragonfly. The dragonfly and its skin-shedding metamorphosis are recurring metaphors throughout the show, signifying the artist's breakaway from cruel, hierarchical social restraints.
Expect: a thorough compendium of masterworks—some hanging, some commanding entire rooms—encouraging full immersion into the concurrent exhibitions.
Organised with the Estate of Alexander Calder, this two-gallery exhibition of the modernist sculptor's practice includes standing mobiles and bronze sculptures from the 1940s and 50s, alongside later hanging sculptures such as White Ordinary (1976), completed the year Calder died.
Among earlier examples, Caged Stone and Fourteen Dots (1948) is a welcome inclusion for the way it balances the delicacy of Calder's late-1940s sculpture with the kinetic harmony of his standing mobiles, which he began producing in the early 1930s.
The work features a stone encased in a red wire 'cage', anchoring a constellation of suspended dots. It forms the perfect segue to Lee Ufan's stone sculptures which can be seen in Kukje Gallery's adjoining gallery spaces and garden next door.
This solo exhibition at Kukje Gallery marks Lee's third in Korea in 12 years, which may come as a surprise to some given the artist is Korea-born and educated. Featuring six sculptures from his 'Relatum' series (1972–2011) and four drawings, the curation of this show—with each sculpture housed in its own room—makes for an impactful presentation.
Darkly lit and thoughtfully spaced, the display allows the viewer to silently observe and partake in the dialogue between the two elements that have come to define Lee's groundbreaking series: stone, representing nature, and steel, standing in for industrial society.
Tadao Ando: Youth
Museum SAN, 260, Oakvalley 2-gil, Wonju
1 April–30 July 2023
Expect: a peaceful escape from Seoul's bustle, where the lifework of prolific Japanese architect Tadao Ando is chronicled through his architecture, drawing, models, and video.
An hour or so east of Seoul, in the mountainous regions of Oak Valley, sits Museum SAN, designed by the world-renowned Japanese architect. To celebrate its tenth anniversary, the rural museum is hosting a comprehensive survey of Ando's commercial projects and private commissions, both in Japan and abroad.
Galleries are filled to the brim with mind maps and maquettes by the visionary. Detailed models of Ando's most celebrated commissions such as the museum restoration of the Punta della Dogana in Venice and his contributions to Naoshima island sit alongside the unrealised—notably, his Ground Zero memorial for 9/11 and Tate Modern proposal.
Outside, a walk through the museum's stone garden dotted with sculptures by Bernar Venet and Henry Moore, among others, ends at the James Turrell gallery: a dreamlike setting to experience the American artist's mind-bending Light and Space works, including Skyspace, Horizon Room (both 2012), Ganzfeld (2013), and Wedgework (2014). —[O]