In Meiro Koizumi's three-channel video installation, The Angels of Testimony (2019), the central frame features an interview with Hajime Kondo about his time as a solider of the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War. The conversation centres on war crimes perpetrated in China, including the beheading of Chinese prisoners for...
Diana Campbell Betancourt is a curator working predominantly across South and Southeast Asia. Since 2013 she has been the founding artistic director of the Samdani Art Foundation and chief curator of the Dhaka Art Summit in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a transnational art event that has grown in size and scale ever since its first edition in 2012. Backed by...
China, home to 802 million internet users, is subject to sophisticated online censorship. This shrouded state of affairs, unsurprisingly perhaps, serves to reinforce stereotypes around conformity elsewhere. Any realm, digital or otherwise, subject to such strict scrutiny must necessarily be bland and uncritical, right? I was mulling over such...
Opening at the Boghossian Foundation’s Villa Empain in Brussels this weekend is When Process Becomes Form: Dansaekhwa and Korean Abstraction, the first exhaustive exhibition of the Korean Dansaekhwa movement in Belgium, featuring some fifty works by seven of its leading proponents: Chung Chang-Sup, Chung Sang-Hwa, Ha Chong-Hyun, Kim Whanki, Kwon Young-woo, Lee Ufan, and Park Seo-Bo.
Ha Chong-Hyun (하종현) is one of Korea's most acclaimed artists. He is a Dansaekhwa artist, 'Dansaekhwa' meaning 'monochrome painting'. Though this was not an official movement—it had no manifesto or clearly defined members—it describes the work of Korean artists from the mid-1970s who share a muted, spare palette and innovative approach to practice. These artists also came into their own in a period of great political upheaval and deprivation during the 1970s when South Korean president Park Chung Hee declared martial law and effectively ruled the state as a dictator.
Ha's work is characterised by its soft, earthy tones that echo Korea's landscape and villages. Working primarily with burlap—the same woven material used by the United States to transport relief supplies and goods to aid Korea during the Korean War—the artist imbues his paintings with a sense of sculpture by taking an unusual approach to the application of paint upon medium; he pushes thick layers of paint through the backside of his paintings and into the foreground, creating a seeped and textured surface, as in Conjunction 09-52 (2009). Referring to this method as bae-ap-bub ('back pressure method'), it suggests art as something that can have two sides. This labour-intensive experimentation, which was rendered in his 1970s 'Conjunction' series, helped redefine Korea's modern art and academic tradition. It also served to bridge avantgarde trends between East and West. In his use of burlap, Ha's work triggers associations with Western abstract artists, such as Alberti Boetti, who also used the cheap materials, and his paired down strokes resonate with that of post-war abstraction as seen in the work of Agnes Martin, Cy Twombly and Niele Toroni.
Seoul has been the artist's home since 1959 when he graduated from Hongik University. From 1990 to 1994 Ha served as dean at Hongik University's College of Fine Arts, and he was director of the Seoul Museum of Art from 2001 to 2006. His work has been the subject of numerous exhibitions, both nationally and worldwide.
Kwon Young-Woo (권영우) was considered a pioneering figure in the development of Dansaekhwa (or the modern monochrome movement), a Korean painting tradition where artists work predominantly with paper. Born in Korea in 1926, Kwon graduated from Seoul National University’s first art school class in 1951 alongside his contemporaries Park No-Soo, Suh Se Ok, Chang Un-Sang, and Park Sae-Won. He died in 2013.
Throughout his career, Kwon explored the textural abilities of his chosen medium by scratching, tearing, and layering sheets of hanji (traditional Korean mulberry paper) onto canvas and manipulating the material into three-dimensional relief sculptures which were then decorated with ink painting. Later in his career, Kwon removed any trace of representation and worked solely with white paper.
Kwon’s skill in altering a traditional material to reflect themes of Abstract Expressionism has led to him being recognised as one of Korea’s most groundbreaking artists. Recently, the artist’s works have been exposed to new audiences due to a resurgence in interest of the Dansaekhwa movement.
Kwon Young-Woo has been included in recent exhibitions such as From All Sides: Tansaekhwa on Abstraction at Blum & Poe, Los Angeles (2014); Dansaekhwa at Kukje Gallery, Seoul (2015); When Process Becomes Form: Dansaekhwa and Korean Abstraction at the Boghossian Foundation, Brussels (2016); and Dansaekhwa and Minimalism at Blum & Poe, New York (2016).
In 2007, six years before his death in 2013, Kwon donated 70 of his most important works to the Seoul Museum of Art.
As a progenitor of the Japanese Mono-ha, or School of Things, movement, Lee Ufan led a loose constellation of artists who championed the use of ordinary materials during the late 1960s, significantly altering the course of 20th-century Japanese art. Lee's dense yet poetic text, Beyond Being and Nothingness—A Thesis on Sekine Nobuo, provided something of an intellectual foundation for the movement. The group eschewed representation, choosing instead to zero in on the relationship between perception and material. Its main aim—as expressed by its key figures—was to demonstrate the fluid coexistence of objects, ideas and encounters.
In 1956, Lee began studying painting at the College of Fine Arts at Seoul National University, but after two months he relocated to Yokohama, Japan, where he went on to earn a degree in philosophy in 1961. During this period, the restrained painting style of his student work was in formal and conceptual opposition to the free expression of Gutai—the performance-oriented post-war Japanese art movement that anticipated Fluxus and inspired the work of Yves Klein, Allan Kaprow and Nam June Paik.
In the mid-1970s Lee became one of the major exponents of Korean Dansaekhwa ('Monochrome Painting')—a style that became one of the country's most important artistic developments in the 20th century—and the first from that period to bring the movement to Japan. Lee, along with the group's other loosely connected members, emphasised materiality as a means of producing relationships that link objects to viewers. In the repetitive gestural marks of his work, abstraction served to register the body's movement as well as the passage of time. With an eye towards modernist abstraction's best-known devices—seriality, gesture, grids and monochrome—Lee's paintings pushed the bounds of formalist paradigms. And through their affinity to and correspondence with Euro-American art, they proffered new forms of connection across seemingly incompatible ideological positions.
In his early painting series, 'From Point' and 'From Line' (1972–84), Lee combined ground mineral pigment with animal-skin glue, typical of the traditional Japanese Nihonga painting in which he had trained. Each fastidious brushstroke consisted of multiple simultaneous layers, and where the brush had first made contact with the support, the paint was thick, creating a 'ridge' that would gradually lighten. Rarely did Lee's brush touch the canvas separately more than three times, yet this economic application created a feeling of dynamic tension between gesture and picture plane characteristic of his paintings. In the early 1990s, Lee carried this through to his 'Correspondence' paintings, which consisted of a minimal number of grey-blue brushstrokes, applied on large white surfaces.
Lee's more recent and ongoing 'Dialogue' series, begun around 2006, considers philosophical notions of emptiness and fullness. These exist within a lineage of work that dates back to earlier works such as the 'From Line', 'From Point' and 'From Winds' series, which in the 1970s marked his transition from relatively small strokes predominantly in blue and orange to the intermixing of those colours and the predominance of grey tones from the 1980s.
Today Lee views his pristine white supports, enlivened by touches of paint, and his large site-specific sculptures made from stone and iron as materially opposed to the virtual nature of screen-based media that has now become so ubiquitous.
Although he is highly regarded as a painter, one of Lee's best-known series is 'Relatum' (1968–), three-dimensional groups of rocks dispersed with industrial materials such as steel sheets, glass panes and rubber. Lee began producing them as a response to 1960s Japan and its intensely turbulent socio-political climate. In each of these assemblages, the artist emphasises how constituent parts sit in relation to one another, to space and to surrounding objects, going beyond the enclosed network that is implied by the term 'sculpture' and its more conventional examples.
As well as being the recipient of numerous awards and honours, Lee is also represented in numerous prominent collections around the world. These include The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Tate Modern, London; The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto; and The National Museum of Art, Osaka.
In 2010, the Tadao Ando-designed Lee Ufan Museum was opened at the Benesse Art Site on the Japanese Island of Naoshima, dedicated to the artist and his legacy. Lee—a professor emeritus at Tama Art University, Tokyo, where he taught from 1973 to 2007—divides his time between France and Japan.
One of the most significant artists in modern Korean history, Park Seo-Bo was born in 1931 in Yecheon, Gyeongbuk, South Korea. As a young artist in the 1950s, Park was among the first to introduce abstraction to Korean art and is best known as a founding figure of the art movement, Dansaekhwa.
Dansaekhwa, also known as baeksaekpa (the School of White), refers to a group of paintings in Korean art that began to appear in the late 1950s and fully emerged in the art world by the mid-1970s. Translated as 'monochrome paintings', Dansaekhwa is characterised by minimal colour palettes, repetitive gestures and manipulation of the canvas or paper through soaking, tearing, pulling and other techniques. Park and contemporaries such as Lee Ufan, Chung Chang-Sup and Kwon Young-Woo began incorporating abstract motifs and unconventional techniques in their works as a reaction against the prevailing academicism. Dansaekhwa was also a response to the unstable conditions in the country at the time; 35 years of Japanese Occupation and the Korean War had been replaced by a conspicuous American presence. Many artists expressed their perception of a changing Korean cultural identity through paintings that wedded Western and Eastern techniques. Despite its introduction as a 'movement' to the West, however, Dansaekhwa was never an official movement and the term itself was coined in retrospect by the curator and scholar Yoon Jin Sup in 2000.
Although abstraction in Korean art was influenced by North American Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism, Park's paintings are not an uncritical absorption of outside influences but rather a negotiation between the traditional and the new. 'Ecriture'—his most famous and ongoing series conceived in the 1960s—uses Western Modernist techniques of painting on traditional Korean hanji paper. In early works, Park used a pencil or a stylus to make repetitive marks on the canvas, but since the 1980s he has been manipulating the pulp of hanji paper while its surface is wet. Myobop—as 'Ecriture' paintings are known in the Korean language—means 'law of drawing', a phrase that reveals the artist's interest in Taoist and Buddhist philosophies. Further nicknamed 'the journey of the hand', the process of repetition eliminates individual gestures and becomes one of meditation.
Paintings in the 'Ecriture' series have experienced stylistic changes over the years. Park's work from the 1990s and early 2000s were black and white, two of the most important colours in East Asian philosophy—black represents time and pure emptiness, while white alludes to death spirituality and the void. Since 2002, Park has incorporated other colours as well, using acrylic paint to mould linear patterns on the wet pulp of hanji paper. From a distance, these monochrome paintings appear to be one colour or empty. Borrowing the language of abstraction, rejecting painterly codes from Western Modernism and combining these methodologies with Eastern philosophies, Park attempts to capture and convey the 'ideal of emptiness or "no mind"', according to a press release from Tina Kim Gallery's 2016 solo exhibition of Park's work.
Park has also led an impressive career as an educator of art in South Korea. Between 1962 and 1994, he taught as a professor at Hongik University, Seoul—one of the most prestigious institutions of art in the country and his alma mater (from which he graduated in 1954). In 1986 he became the Dean of the College of Fine Arts, a position he would hold until 1990. Park continues to participate in the contemporary Korean art scene through his Seo-Bo Art and Cultural Foundation, Seoul-based and founded in 1994.
Park's work has been recognised both nationally and internationally. He has exhibited in many institutions across Asia, the USA and Europe, and has exhibited twice at the Venice Biennale (2015, 1988). Referred to as the father of Dansaekhwa, Park's paintings have been included in several group exhibitions, including When process becomes form: Dansaekhwa and Korean abstraction, the Boghossian Foundation, Brussels (2016); Dansaekhwa and Minimalism, Blum & Poe, Los Angeles (2016); and Dansaekhwa, a Collateral Event of the 56th Venice Biennale (2015). Park was awarded the President's Citation in 1972 and received the Silver Crown Cultural Medal for his services toward the advancement of contemporary art in Korea in 2011.
When Process Becomes Form is the first comprehensive presentation in Belgium of a number of seminal works by a generation of Korean artists whose negotiation of abstraction has become known as Dansaekhwa.The exhibition consists of some 50 paintings and works of paper drawn from the 1970s and the 1980s, along with a substantial array of archival...
The Dansaekhwa monochrome movement is a synthesis between traditional Korean spirit and Western abstraction, which emerged in the early to mid 1970s in Korea. The artists affiliated with the movement primarily share a restricted palette of neutral hues – mainly white, beige and black – from which the term dansaekhwa (‘single...
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