Two New York City galleries hold simultaneous posthumous exhibitions of two Korean Dansaekhwa masters.

While Blum and Poe presents a survey of works by Yun Hyong-keun, Galerie Perrotin unveils Chang Chung-Sup’s early paintings. The two separate exhibitions both run until 23 December 2015.

Chung Chang-Sup, 'Untitled', 1992, Tak fibre on canvas, 260 x 390 cm. Image courtesy Galerie Perrotin.

Chung Chang-Sup, ‘Untitled’, 1992, Tak fibre on canvas, 260 x 390 cm. Image courtesy Galerie Perrotin.

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 colour’) originated.

Dansaekhwa has often been compared to Minimalism in the West. Both advocated that art should be cleared of self-expression or emotion represented by single strokes and vibrant colours, and arose in reaction to Art Informel or Abstract Expressionism, respectively. However, Dansaekhwa’s intent was very different from that of Minimalism. Violaine Boutet de Monvel writes for Galerie Perrotin:

Highly spiritual rather than purely conceptual, the quest behind the exceptional discipline of Korean monochrome painting isn’t that of ‘objectivity’, but that of ‘oneness’ between self and matter, which is essential to Asian philosophy, as opposed to the Western Cartesian premise of a split.

Yun Hyongkeun, 'Burnt Umber & Ultramarine Blue', 2007, oil on cotton, 63 3/4 x 44 5/16 in. Image courtesy Yun Seong-ryeol and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

Yun Hyongkeun, ‘Burnt Umber & Ultramarine Blue’ (detail), 2007, oil on cotton, 63 3/4 x 44 5/16 in. Image courtesy Yun Seong-ryeol and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles / New York / Tokyo.

Dansaekhwa has been a powerful driving force behind Korean art for decades, but has only recently garnered renewed attention, especially in the West. In the past few years, a plethora of exhibitions have presented the work of Dansaekhwa artists, from its pioneers and masters to its most recent practitioners.

In late October and early November 2015, two New York-based galleries have almost simultaneously launched posthumous solo exhibitions of two of the most renowned and influential Dansaekhwa masters. Blum and Poe presents Yun Hyong-keun, while Galerie Perrotin unveils early works by Chung Chang-Sup.

Yun Hyongkeun, 'Umber-Blue', 1978, oil on linen, 51 1/8 x 72 7/8 in. Image courtesy Yun Seong-ryeol and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

Yun Hyongkeun, ‘Umber-Blue’, 1978, oil on linen, 51 1/8 x 72 7/8 in. Image courtesy Yun Seong-ryeol and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles / New York / Tokyo.

Yun Hyong-keun

The exhibition at Blum and Poe takes the form of a concise survey of 13 works by Yun Hyong-keun (1928-2007) until 23 December 2015. The show is also Yun’s first at the gallery and his first posthumous in North America.

Yun Hyongkeun, 'Burnt Umber & Ultramarine', 1973, oil on linen, 16 3/8 x 38 1/8 in. Image courtesy Yun Seong-ryeol and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

Yun Hyongkeun, ‘Burnt Umber & Ultramarine’, 1973, oil on linen, 16 3/8 x 38 1/8 in. Image courtesy Yun Seong-ryeol and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles / New York / Tokyo.

Yun Hyong-keun was born in Miwŏn, Korea, in 1928 and graduated from the Department of Painting, Hongik University, Seoul, in 1957. During his career, he had various solo exhibitions in Korea, Japan, Germany, France and the United States, and was part of group shows dedicated to the Dansaekhwa movement such as “Dansaekhwa: Korean Monochrome Painting”, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Gwacheon (2012) and “Korean Abstract Art: 1958–2008”, Seoul Museum of Art (2008). The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Strasbourg, France, held a major retrospective of his work in 2002.

Yun Hyongkeun, 'Umber', 1991, oil on linen, 20 15/16 x 28 3/4 in. Image courtesy Yun Seong-ryeol and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

Yun Hyongkeun, ‘Umber’, 1991, oil on linen, 20 15/16 x 28 3/4 in. Image courtesy Yun Seong-ryeol and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles / New York / Tokyo.

Starting in the early 1970s, Yun created his unique Umber Blue series of paintings. The works blurred the boundaries between ink and oil painting, geometrical and gestural abstraction. His palette was strictly umber and ultramarine, and was diluted in turpentine, which allowed for the paint to wash over the canvas. Yun layered the paint for days, weeks and months, in order to obtain “intense fields of darkness”.

Yun Hyongkeun, 'Burnt Umber & Ultramarine', 1992, oil on linen, 51 1/4 x 63 7/8 in. Image courtesy Yun Seong-ryeol and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

Yun Hyongkeun, ‘Burnt Umber & Ultramarine’, 1992, oil on linen, 51 1/4 x 63 7/8 in. Image courtesy Yun Seong-ryeol and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles / New York / Tokyo.

Seeping into the fibres of the support, the paint smudged over the edges of the dark fields. From the 1990s, these boundaries between the background and the darkness became more defined, eventually turning into “hard edges” in Yun’s final decade.

Chung Chang-Sup, 'Return 77-O', 1977, mixed media on paper, 197 x 110 cm. Image courtesy Galerie Perrotin.

Chung Chang-Sup, ‘Return 77-O’, 1977, mixed media on paper, 197 x 110 cm. Image courtesy Galerie Perrotin.

Chung Chang Sup

Gallery Perrotin’s New York space meanwhile is holding “Meditation”, a unique exhibition of Chung Chang-Sup’s (1927-2011) 19 paintings from his early series Return and Meditation.

Chung Chang-Sup used a natural fabric made out of the inner bark of the mulberry paper tree–known as hanji or tak paper. According to the artist, the handmade paper allowed him to feel inside and outside at the same time, as it was used for traditional Korean doors and screens, painting and calligraphy, but it came from the natural world.

Chung Chang-Sup, 'Return 77-P', 1977, mixed media on paper, 197 x 110 cm. Image courtesy Galerie Perrotin.

Chung Chang-Sup, ‘Return 77-P’, 1977, mixed media on paper, 197 x 110 cm. Image courtesy Galerie Perrotin.

In the mid-1970s, Chung started the series Return – which in Korean implied ‘return to the tradition’ – highly evocative of windows and doors. He applied squares or rectangles of hanji paper on canvas, painting the blank edges in ink and letting it seep through the layers of paper.

At this point in time, Chung still felt the paper was a mere frame, made by someone else. Subsequently, he decided to make the paper himself, first with his series Tak in the 1980s and finally with Meditation from the 1990s until his death.

Chung Chang-Sup, 'Meditation 9550-B', 1995, Tak fibre on canvas, 244 x 122 cm. Image courtesy Galerie Perrotin.

Chung Chang-Sup, ‘Meditation 9550-B’, 1995, Tak fibre on canvas, 244 x 122 cm. Image courtesy Galerie Perrotin.

Chung soaked and rubbed the mulberry bark in water in large vats his studio, monitoring the colour variations in the fibres from ochre to white. He then spread, applied and manipulated the wet paste onto his canvases. In the Meditation series, in addition to yellowish hues, Chung also used other natural pigments such as brown and black distilled out of tobacco leaves and charcoal. The artist further introduced geometry in his work as a symbol of the harmony found in nature.

Chung Chang-Sup, 'Return one 80-A', 1980, mixed media on paper, 90 x 90 cm. Image courtesy Galerie Perrotin.

Chung Chang-Sup, ‘Return one 80-A’, 1980, mixed media on paper, 90 x 90 cm. Image courtesy Galerie Perrotin.

Chung dedicated himself to achieve the unity between self and matter and “align his art with nature”, observing discipline like a Buddhist monk. His oeuvre reflects “his Taoist belief that the artist must balance material and nature in the unified act of making in order to reach harmony”, as Galerie Perrotin writes. In the exhibition press release, the artist is quoted as saying:

As a lone truth seeker gets a glimpse of the God, I believe that Oriental spiritualism and occidental materialism are harmonized on the crossroads of my lonely journey.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: Korean artists, abstract art, Dansaekhwa, painting, gallery shows, picture feasts, events in New York

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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