New York exhibition compares and contrasts the Korean art form Dansaekhwa with American Minimalism.

Following a successful run in Los Angeles, Blum & Poe brings “Dansaekhwa and Minimalism to New York, ongoing until 21 May 2016. Art Radar delves into the Korean monochrome art form by examining six leading Dansaekhwa artists featured in the exhibition.

Installation view of 'Dansaekhwa and Minimalism' at Blum & Poe, Los Angeles. Image courtesy Blum & Poe Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

Installation view of “Dansaekhwa and Minimalism” at Blum & Poe, Los Angeles. Image courtesy Blum & Poe Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

This article was written by a participant in our art writing diploma programme. Do you want to write for Art Radar, too? Click here to find out more about our Diploma in Art Journalism & Writing.

Dansaekhwa, or Korean monochrome art, is characterised by painting in a single colour, textured and with simplified images. Featured as a collateral event of the 56th Venice Biennale (2015), the art form has also generated interest in the western world through recent exhibitions such as “From All Sides: Tansaekhwa on Abstraction” (Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, 2014), “Overcoming the Modern. Dansaekhwa: The Korean Monochrome Movement” (Alexander Gray Associates, New York, 2014), and “Lee Ufan: Marking Infinity” (Guggenheim, New York, 2011). The burgeoning popularity of Dansaekhwa can also be seen through its success in auctions.

To highlight the subtle diversity of aesthetics and ideas between Dansaekhwa and Minimalism, Blum & Poe showcases the most representative artists since 1960 from both movements, referring to the exhibition as “the first survey of Korean monochromatic painting with American Minimalism”. This article features six dominant Korean Dansaekhwa artists:

  • Chung Sang-hwa
  • Kwon Young-woo
  • Ha Chonghyun
  • Lee Ufan
  • Park Seobo
  • Yun Hyong-keun

The American artists featured are Carl Andre, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Robert Mangold, Agnes Martin, Robert Ryman and Richard Serra.

Installation view of 'Dansaekhwa and Minimalism'. Image courtesy Blum & Poe Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

Installation view of “Dansaekhwa and Minimalism” at Plum & Poe. Image courtesy Blum & Poe Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

Dansaekhwa versus Minimalism

Dansaekhwa and American Minimalism both emerged during almost the same period: around 1960. Although the former has been criticised for emulating Western Minimalism, they eventually evolved distinctively. The exhibition reveals the similarities of the two kinds of art, both of which appear simplified.

While Dansaekhwa aims at reinterpreting western art trends with true feelings and in-depth spiritual value, Minimalism is rooted in western culture and methods of language and mathematics, and is therefore more inclined to rational logic. Moreover, Dansaekhwa arose in turbulent conditions, when South Korea was under martial regime. Artists lived under extreme shortage of materials, and created in response to notions of belonging, national identity and self-reflection from the impact of Western modernity. Dansaekhwa was also about physicality and materials, and highly valued the meditative aspect of art.

Art Radar highlights the six Dansaekhwa artists showcased in the exhibition. Each of them has invented their individual style and expanded the uniqueness of the art form.

Chung Sang-hwa, 'Untitled 73-A-15', 1973, acrylic on canvas, 162.2 x 130.3 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles.

Chung Sang-hwa, ‘Untitled 73-A-15’, 1973, acrylic on canvas, 162.2 x 130.3 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles.

1. Chung Sang-hwa

Dansaekhwa expert Yoon Jin-sup once commented that the way Chung Sang-hwa (b. 1932) makes his “grid paintings” is the closest interpretation of the pivotal principal of Dansaekhwa. Chung graduated from Korea’s most renowned art academy, the College of Fine Arts of Seoul National University, and spent a lot of time in Japan and France to further his theory and practice. The labour-intensive and time consuming process and the strong density of materials are entrenched in his monochrome paintings. His works have been widely exhibited, including at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum and Guggenheim Museum.

Kwon Young-woo, 'Untitled', 1980, Korean paper, 63 13/16 x 51 3/16 inches. © Kwon Young-woo. Image courtesy the Estate of Kwon Young-woo and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

Kwon Young-woo, ‘Untitled’, 1980, Korean paper, 63 13/16 x 51 3/16 inches. © Kwon Young-woo. Image courtesy the Estate of Kwon Young-woo and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

2. Kwon Young-woo

Kwon Young-woo (1926 – 2013), a pioneer artist, contributed to the development of Dansaekhwa. In a 1977 interview, he claimed that he was an artist who practiced “white painting” that lay in “neither an Eastern nor Western genre”. The exploration of the aesthetics of paper has dominated his art career. He is known for his three dimensional relief-style painting with elaborate physical actions (like scratching, glue, peeling and so on), mixed with raw materials upon hanji (traditional Korean mulberry paper).

Kwon Young-woo had a major exhibition in 1973 at the 12th São Paulo Biennial, and has been awarded several honours such as the Korean Artist of the Year (1998) and the Silver Crown Medal of the Order of Cultural Merit (2001) in Korean art history. His works are included in permanent collections worldwide, such as the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul and the British Museum.

Ha Chonghyun, 'Conjunction 14-116', 2014, oil on hemp, 70 7/8 x 47 1/4 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

Ha Chonghyun, ‘Conjunction 14-116’, 2014, oil on hemp, 70 7/8 x 47 1/4 inches. Image courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

 3. Ha Chonghyun

Ha Chonghyun (b. 1935, Sanoheong, Korea) is an artist who advocates that the one who paints can never determine the shape of the seeping paint, and can therefore never control the result. Ha Chonghyun has gained global recognition with his lifelong series of works entitled Conjunction, which he has painted for more than forty years. The technique he adopted involved mainly two materials: burlap and barbed-wire. He pushed paint from the opposite side of the linen, and then let the paint seep through the front and naturally form the texture.

The artist explains that the hues of his works appear white and brown, reflecting Korean porcelain and soil, respectively. His repetitive and strict practice is a testimony to the individual’s pursuit towards the persistence of pure art.

Lee Ufan, 'From Line No. 800117', 1980, glue and mineral pigment on canvas, 44 1/8 x 57 1/8 inches. © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Image courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

Lee Ufan, ‘From Line No. 800117’, 1980, glue and mineral pigment on canvas, 44 1/8 x 57 1/8 inches. © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Image courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

4. Lee Ufan

80-year-old artist and philosopher Lee Ufan (b. 1936, Kyongnam, Korea) is not only the leading theorist behind the Japanese movement of Mono Ha (School of Things), but was also an eminent figure of Dansaekhwa in the 1970s. His representative art series entitled From Line and From Point comprise dense paint and repetitive brush strokes at the top of the canvas that gradually decline towards the end.

The process of Lee Ufan’s works reveals how the artist becomes integrated into his canvas, and how the canvas transmits the infinity of time, as illustrated in his solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in 2011. Major international museums have collected his works.

Park Seobo, 'Ecriture No. 5-80', 1980, pencil and oil on canvas, 161.6 x 194.6 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles.

Park Seobo, ‘Ecriture No. 5-80’, 1980, pencil and oil on canvas, 161.6 x 194.6 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles.

  1. Park Seo-Bo

Park Seo-Bo was born in 1931, and is an eminent figure in the history of Dansaekhwa. In an interview with The New Yorker, he explained his approach to art, saying:

I didn’t want to express anything, it was about emptying myself. The monk empties himself by ritual, by repetition, so I did the same thing.

The texture exuding from his canvas presents itself in scribbles, lines and curves, which enlivens the monochrome combination. His ongoing series Ecriture, that started forty years ago, captures the artist’s repetitive act of drawing and scribbling on the surface of each of his paintings.

Yun Hyong-keun, 'Burnt Umber & Ultramarine', 1972, oil on cotton, 82.8 x 132.7 cm. Image courtesy Yun Seong-ryeol and PKM Gallery.

Yun Hyong-keun, ‘Burnt Umber & Ultramarine’, 1972, oil on cotton, 82.8 x 132.7 cm. Image courtesy Yun Seong-ryeol and PKM Gallery.

6. Yun Hyong-keun

The reverence to nature is the only narrative depicted in Yun Hyong-keun’s (1927 – 2007) paintings, an artist who was known to have persistently rejected any forms of figuration. The philosophy rooted in his art underlies his belief in the cycle of nature, illustrating that everything goes to dust. He employed rather stark ultramarine and umber as primary colours, incorporated with western media (oil paint). Uncoupling traditional traces, he gradually formed the highly spiritual concept of the “oneness between self and matter”.

The amorphous colour, as if stressing the unspeakable Asian contemplation of landscape, is characteristic of his series Umber Blue, which the artist has been working on for more than thirty years. His works have been exhibited in Tate Liverpool (1992) and he also participated in the Venice Biennale (1995) and São Paulo Biennale (1975 and 1969).

Suquin Ou

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This article was written by a participant in our art writing diploma programme. Do you want to write for Art Radar, too? Click here to find out more about our Diploma in Art Journalism & Writing.

Related Topics: Korean artists, American artists, Certificate in Art Journalism & Writing 101, painting, profiles, abstract art, art as meditation, Asia expands, gallery shows, 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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