Using everything from chocolate to Ultra Violet light, 6 young South Korean artists are making waves in the art scene.
The South Korean contemporary art scene is highly diverse, comprised of talented, fearless young artists bursting with new ideas and visions. Art Radar introduces 6 exciting emerging artists working across a dazzling array of mediums.
Jin Joo Chae
Jin Joo Chae (b. 1981, Seoul, Korea) is known for her headline-grabbing, much celebrated “Choco Pie” works: unique and thought-provoking pieces in which the artist uses melted chocolate as a medium to shed light on political issues and human rights abuses in North Korea.
To create her signature works, Chae melts chocolate – either milk, dark or bittersweet – and then uses it as ink, screen printing chocolate words and images on newspaper pages of the North Korean Workers’ Newspaper. The luscious, delectable absurdity of the medium is juxtaposed against stark reality; as Chae explains, speaking to Art Radar about Choco Pie, a popular South Korean dessert:
Choco Pies are given out in lieu of forbidden cash bonuses to North Korean workers in the demilitarised Kaesong Industrial Complex, the only place where the two countries have any contact. The workers don’t eat the treats; they sell them on the black market for prices that can exceed USD10 each, despite an average monthly income of USD150.
In Chae’s recent pieces, the calligraphic design of the words “Choco Pie” mimics the Coca Cola logo, drawing a connection between the two commodities as symbols of capitalism. The artist said in an interview with DNAinfo New York that her work:
is about the power of the Choco Pie to change a society as [North Koreans] learn about the concept of capitalism […] It is a kind of currency now in North Korea.
Born and raised in Seoul, the artist finished an MFA at Columbia University in 2013. Her prints are in the collection of the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and Sakima Art Museum, and her first solo show “The Choco Pie-ization of North Korea” (2014) was held in New York in January 2014. Chae tells Art Radar that she hopes to reveal complex realities underlying dominant cultural narratives through her art practice, which is inspired by Korean politics, international media contradictions and cultural displacement.
Kwang Ho Shin
Kwang Ho Shin (b. 1983, Korea) has made a colourful yet ominous splash in the international art world. His powerfully arresting portraits are at once mesmerising and menacing, capturing complex human emotions and energies with startling vision.
The artist is influenced by the German Expressionist movement, creating larger-than-life, lush, tactile canvases that immediately draw viewers in. The press release of “Face Me” (PDF download), Shin’s current solo exhibition in Singapore, states:
Deliberately disregarding precise form and harmonious color, [Shin] uses distortion and exaggeration to express and extend the inner life of his subjects into external reality.
The young artist studied at Keimyung University and is currently based in Yeongdeok, South Korea. He is featured in Saatchi Art’s “One to Watch” list and his works have been exhibited in solo and group shows in Korea, Germany and the United States. “Face Me” (2014), hosted by Yavuz Gallery, is his first solo exhibition in Singapore and Southeast Asia. Shin reveals to Art Radar his excitement about the show:
This exhibition is going to be a very unique and memorable show in my career. I was always alone when I travelled to paint. It was lonely, but when you are alone and have no one to speak to, you start to focus more on painting. Recently, I have had experience in seeing myself through other people [sic], from their reaction to my works. Through this show, I want to remind myself of who I really am and the importance of my existence in my works.
JeeYoung Lee (b. 1983, Korea) “shoots the invisible”, declares the website of OPIOM Gallery, which represents the up-and-coming artist. While traditional photography captures reality, Lee photographs new universes that she herself creates. What Lee offers is much more than photography: she is a painter, a sculptor, a set designer and a magician who turns memory and dreams into stunning windows opening into alternative worlds.
The surreal dreamscapes look like high-res photoshopped images – only they are not. Shunning all sorts of digital manipulation, Lee spends weeks and sometimes months painstakingly creating highly elaborate scenes, designing the concept, handcrafting props and perfecting lighting requirements to the most minute detail.
Lee once said that surviving as an artist in Korea was difficult due to financial concerns, space and rent. It might be that these practical limitations gave birth to Lee’s enthralling works. This Is Colossal writes that, for Lee,
the question was how to utilise her small studio space in Seoul, measuring 11.8′ x 13.5′ x 7.8′ (3.6m x 4.1m x 2.4m), that was proportionally miniscule to the scale of her boundless imagination. Instead of finding a new location or reverting to digital trickery, Lee challenged herself to build some of the most elaborate sets imaginable for the sake of taking a single photograph.
Lee was the recipient of the Sovereign Asian Art Prize in 2012 and had her first solo show outside of Korea in France in 2014. Following its success, her work was seen 500,000 times on Reddit in just two days, and has been featured in major worldwide media outlets. Her next upcoming show will be at the K11 Art Mall in Hong Kong in November-December 2014.
The young artist takes inspiration from her own life as well as various Korean fables and she appears in the sets herself. OPIOM Gallery’s website explains that the self-portraits are never frontal, since
it is never her visual aspect she shows, but rather her quest for an identity, her desires and her frame of mind. Her creations act as a catharsis which allows her to accept social repression and frustrations.
Xooang Choi (b. 1975, Seoul, Korea) was described as the “dark master of the imagination” by The Huffington Post. His painted polymer clay sculptures, which began as miniature figures in the early 2000s and grew in scale since 2007, are delicately beautiful yet nightmarish constructions.
Superbly moulded in a hyper-realistic technique, Choi’s human figures and body parts are also surrealistic, twisting and morphing according to the artist’s own formative language. Distorted and exaggerated, the estranged creatures act as dark metaphors for the twisted facets of human relations, social structures and the human psyche. Choi seems to think that there is something very wrong with contemporary society, and his disturbing and often macabre sculptures vividly portray the pathological state of our times.
Choi received a BFA and MFA in Sculpture from the National University of Seoul. The artist has exhibited in solo and group exhibitions around the world, and his recent work Noise (2014) was a commissioned piece for the Gwangju Biennale 2014. The Huffington Post writes that “many of the pieces give metaphorical shape to real issues in modern day Korea, including human rights and abuse.”
And yet, Choi is not completely pessimistic about the human condition. He says in an interview with Yatzer:
When something looks wrong or sick in everyone’s view, it can be healed by collective efforts. There will be a solution.
Ham Jin (b. 1978, Seoul, Korea) achieved nationwide attention for his comedic microscopic clay figures while still attending Kyungwon University in 1999. The size of a fingernail, these bright and delicate sculptures were obsessive, personal replications of ordinary and trivial objects. Fun and tinged with fantasy, the works carried a childlike imagination; quoted by the Guangzhou Triennial, he interpreted them as
spectacle[s] that [are] part of everyday life but invisible to the eye.
Since then, the artist has kept to the themes of miniatures and invisibility, but has taken his art to darker places. Limiting his material to black polymer clay, the artist’s recent sculptures and installations are subdued, minimalist and abstract – sinisterly ethereal. But the extent of his technique is still visible, perhaps more than ever, upon close inspection: using a magnifying glass, audiences will be able to discern intricate human faces and New York City buildings emerging out of the unidentifiable black matter.
The astonishing level of surreptitious detail symbolises the presence of hidden truths in society. The artist invites viewers to peer through the gaps to register the invisible, the grotesque and the unseen sufferings of the world.
The artist received a BFA in Sculpture from Kyungwon University and has held solo and group exhibitions around the world. He is currently participating in the Busan Biennale 2014, and his biennale statement explains his artistic pathway:
[My] previous works were invisible in space so one […] discover[s] them like a four-leaf clover. My [recent] works including the black series and other recent ones are visible in space but their implications are invisible. Nothing is clear, like dust or mist […] but with a closer look, there are many shapes interlocking with different thoughts, like semi-abstraction.
Jeongmoon Choi (b. 1966, Seoul, Korea) creates hypnotising, other-worldly room installations using only coloured wool and Ultra Violet light. The criss-crossing fields of impeccably constructed three-dimensional lines play with perspective, light and illusion to interact dynamically with visitors. As a result, any room or environment is transformed into an immersive, intense, science-fiction-like environment.
Threads, as opposed to ink or paint, are used as drawing material: it can aptly be said that the artist ‘draws’ or ‘paints’ in space. Choi tells Art Radar about the philosophy of her art:
With threads I trace the contours of rooms and furnishings, at times in a decisive, geometric manner, at other times in the form of animated handwriting. I use UV light to illuminate my vision.
Laurent Müller, a Paris-based gallerist representing the artist, tells Art Radar about the underlying theme of Choi’s work and artistic reflections:
About Jeongmoon’s work, it is really important to consider the underlying idea of ‘protecting’ – of our human nature being in the end quite fragile as opposed to nature in general and natural forces (storms, floods, catastrophes) […] As a race, we tend to try and control nature but in the end this is an illusion. This illusion of a man-made architecture that protects us is what lies at the heart of Jeongmoon’s reflections.
Choi lives and works in Berlin and Seoul, and exhibits regularly around the world, especially in Europe and South Korea. Her most recent exhibition “In.visible” can be seen at Forum Maximilian, Munich until mid-November 2014.
- Cyborgs, crystals and concrete temples: Korean artist Lee Bul – profile – September 2014 – Art Radar profiles controversial South Korean artist Lee Bul who is exhibiting her first solo show in the UK from 10 September to 9 November 2014 at the Ikon Gallery
- 8 amazing artworks at the Gwangju Biennale 2014 – September 2014 – Art Radar picks 8 compelling art pieces from Asian artists showing at the Gwangju Biennale
- Korean artist Ik-Joong Kang on the art of being Zen – interview – May 2014 – New York-based Korean artist speaks about his artistic influences and practice, his hope for reunification of the two Koreas and why people are the most exciting artistic medium of all
- Top online resources for Korean contemporary art – April 2014 – independent curator and academic Kate Korroch lists the top online resources on South Korean art with English-language information
- Art and Seoul: Where to see contemporary art in South Korea’s capital – November 2013 – Art Radar gives an insight into Seoul’s art scene and where to find the best art districts to visit for South Korean and Asian art
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