Pioneering and championing performance art in South Korea during post-war recovery, Lee Kun-Yong was an influential figure in contemporary Korean art history.
Art Radar takes a look at the artist’s oeuvre, which was recently shown in the independent Sydney art space 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art.
A seminal figure in Korea’s avant-garde art
The art of Lee Kun-Yong (b. 1942, South Korea) is one fundamentally embedded with the history of the Korean Peninsula itself. At a time when North and South Korea relations are at (what appears to be) a critical, watershed moment after the run of the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, it may well be the right time to reflect on the art of the seminal Korean conceptual artist, and the wider backdrop that his art was crafted in.
Amidst post-war recovery, the perceived threat of communism and the increasing influence of the West, Lee Kun-Yong paved the way for avant-garde experiments in art from the late 1960s onwards. A pioneering figure in the “Space and Time” and “Avant-Garde” art groups, Lee’s work was recently introduced to the Australian public in the 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, in the show “Lee Kun-Yong: Equal Area”, which closed on 25 February 2018.
Performing in times of authoritarianism
At around the same time, the world continued to watch the parallel dramas that unfolded in Pyeongchang. Besides the whirlwind of sporting wins and losses, watchers of the Olympics also keenly noted the political activities between North, South and Western dignitaries. The state of affairs between the North and South today could not have been more different from the time when Lee Kun-Yong’s art gained momentum in South Korea. From the end of 1972 to 1979, South Korea was under martial law; then-President Park Chung-hee had thought it a necessary measure to combat North Korea and its communist influence. However, Park’s martial law regime is mostly remembered as a time of widespread civil rights abrogations, uprisings and violence. Cracking down on press freedom, artistic expression and encouraging unlawful detainment, Park’s authoritarian regime finally culminated in his assassination in 1979.
In the same years martial law flourished, Lee Kun-Yong presented over 50 performances. His performances often took into consideration the site, context, space and body; his first two performances, Indoor Measurement and Equal Area, both consisted of him conducting a survey of the space that he was in, by measuring the site through his own developed method. Other performances investigate the traces between body, canvas and movement. His “Method of Drawing” series, for example, involves recording the movements of his body on canvas. Body Drawing 76, executed in 1976, was a performance where Lee continuously drew on and sawed down a plywood board into different segments, whilst also stacking them up beside him. The final result was a photograph capturing the artist, standing next to a plywood board roughly the same height as him, completely covered over with his line drawings.
It was a long process of discussion [about the exhibition] as we were keen to showcase not only his work but how he has influenced artists in Australia… co-curator Micheal Do and I crafted a curatorial structure that actively invited Australian artists to respond to his work.
It was fascinating see the three Australian artists work together and learn from Mr Lee. Initially their works all seem to be quite disparate but over the course of the show these connections began to emerge. There was a kind of playfulness that they all adopted from Mr Lee and they all supported each other to experiment, to take a few risks and to see what kind of work they could create when outside of the studio.
I hope that our visitors will not only marvel at the exhibiting artists work but also see how important figures in Asian art and Asian Modernity continue to influence the practice of contemporary Australian artists today.
- One place after another: Jewyo Rhii and Jihyun Jung at The Showroom, London – January 2018 – The Showroom space presents the first UK iteration of “Dawn Breaks”
- Art of the “VIPs”: Korean artist Haegue Yang at Kunsthaus Graz, Universalmuseum Joanneum– January 2018 – Korean artist addresses the social importance of “VIPs” and their place within a city’s cultural landscape
- Young-In Hong: stitching together the images of South Korean Post-War history – December 2017 – the relationship between fleeting impressions and eternal records is at the heart of “The Moon’s Trick”
- Private collection: the art of South Korea’s Geumhyung Jeong at Delfina Foundation, London – October 2017 – Korean artist considers the potency of objects in her current show at London’s Delfina Foundation
- A Cruel World: Korean artist Hyon Gyon – in conversation – October 2017 – “Hyon Gyon: Cruel World” is the New York-based South Korean artist’s first solo exhibition in Hong Kong
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