The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Gwancheon presents a large-scale retrospective of Korean artist Bahc Yiso.
Art Radar explores Bahc’s works, archives and drawings donated by the bereaved family to MMCA in 2014.
“Memos and Memories” aims to illustrate the trajectory of Korean art by highlighting Bahc Yiso’s oeuvre. Bahc Yiso (1957-2004) was born in Busan, South Korea with the given name Cheolho Park. He received his BFA at Hong-ik University, Seoul and an MFA from the Pratt Institute, New York. He was an artist, curator and critic from the 1980s to the early 2000s. He died on 26 April 2004, from a sudden heart attack in his studio. Bahc played a pivotal role in the development of Korean contemporary art history by bridging the connection between two art worlds – Seoul and New York. He introduced major art discourses and exhibitions from the New York art scene to Seoul and vice versa, while participating directly and indirectly in various exhibitions in both places.
Additionally, he brought “in-between art” to Korean art institutions, at a time when art was separated into Minjung art and modernism in such locations. He also widened the horizon of contradictory statements through his slogans like “We Are Happy”, and this neither positive nor negative paradoxical interpretation has influenced the next generations of artists and enriched the variety of Korean contemporary art.
He participated in major domestic and international exhibitions, such as the Gwangju Biennale (1997), Taipei Biennial (1998) and Yokohama Triennale (2001). In 2002, he was given the Hermès Foundation Art Award and was gaining great attention from the art world in Korea and overseas. In 2003, he was selected as the representative artist for the Korean Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. However, in 2004, his unexpected death brought sorrow to the art world. After the tragedy, monumental retrospective exhibitions were held at the Rodin Gallery in 2006 and Art Sonje Center in 2011 and 2014. “Memos and Memories” is his first posthumous solo exhibition, ongoing at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Gwancheon, Korea until 16 December 2018.
This exhibition, consisting of archives and masterpieces donated by the artist’s family in 2014, and presents a collection of over 200 pieces including drawings, educational materials, photographs, 21 volumes of the artist’s notes from 1984 to 2004, exhibition materials, articles and the artist’s jazz library.
The exhibition is composed of two axes intersecting each other. One axis follows the chronology of Bahc’s artistic life and recounts over 20 years of his career in New York and Seoul, including his New York Period starting in 1982 when he went to the United States to study and his Seoul Period from 1995, the year of his return to Korea.
Another axis cuts across the timeline and comprises three concentric layers, with the 21 volumes of the artist’s notes representing the core of the display as being his work’s roots, encircled by sketches and archives. His finished works are exhibited as the outermost layer. Through this multi-layered structure, viewers can directly observe the different stages in his creative process.
Bahc’s 21 volumes of notes thoroughly document his working process, from his graduation from Pratt Institute in New York in 1984 to the moment of his death in 2004. His notes range from a reflection on his identity, on cultural heterogeneity and on his experience as a one of the minority during his studies in New York to his sketch for his later masterpiece entitled Your Bright Future (2002).
The installation drawings were created in the mid- to late 1990s, the period in which the artist expanded and transitioned from paintings into stereoscopic and three-dimensional installation. The drawings also depict an analogue simulation of and a sharp conceptual framework examining the effects of exhibitions according to various display environments. His specific information and directions laid out in his drawings are as sophisticated as the design and as meticulous as blueprints.
The exhibition also introduces “Drawings for Untitled” (2000) submitted at the 2001 Yokohama Triennial, and “Drawings for Bakangse” (2002) produced the year he won the Hermès Foundation Art Award, alongside more than 50 works that represent Bahc’s artistic journey, including Exotic-Minority-Oriental, Three Star Show, Blackhole Chair, Your Bright Future and Venice Biennale.
In New York, the artist used the name “Bahc Mo” (meaning “Bahc Somebody”) to indicate the anonymity of his identity. After graduating from the Pratt Institute, he started practicing as an artist and a social activist at the same time. During this period, he primarily concentrated on works that expressed issues of personal identity and communication experienced by foreigners and immigrants.
Around 1986, he founded Minor Injury, an experimental alternative art space in Brooklyn, New York. Through Minor Injury, he was recognised as a young leader representing the voices of neglected immigrants and minorities who were alienated from both domestic and foreign art worlds.
The records of his social activities and materials such as cultural studies, writing activities and study groups are important to show the hidden efforts of the artist along with his artworks and exhibitions. He was also engaged in the publication of texsts that introduced Korean art to New York audiences, and wrote articles on art criticism and postmodernism in Korean journals.
After returning to Korea from New York, he took a position as an art professor at the Samsung Art and Design Institute (SADI), which was newly established in 1995. In Korea, once again, he changed his name to “Yiso Bahc” (meaning “unfamiliar and humble”) and worked actively to build an advanced system for the art education in South Korea. His educational archives such as various lecture plans and evaluation documents at SADI and the Korea National University of Arts illuminate an alternative model of art education he had proposed.
Bahc was also known as a jazz enthusiast. He had a deep passion for jazz music, and he once publicly announced: “I will only listen to jazz for the rest of my life.” Moreover, he recorded and edited over 200 jazz tapes throughout his life. Particularly, his version of Billy Joel’s Honesty is intertwined with the attitude of his life, as if his personalised lyrics of Honesty were an answer to himself, who changed his focus from ‘how to draw’ to ‘why’ to draw.
In parallel with “Bahc Yiso: Memos and Memories” at MMCA in Gwancheon, MMCA Seoul displays an outdoor project, “Bahc Yiso: We Are Happy”. This is a pilot programme of the environmental architecture project for public implementation. Two works of Bahc Yiso, We Are Happy (2004) and Home Shopping (2003) are installed on the roof of the MMCA Seoul building during the exhibition period. We Are Happy (2004) is a work that only remained in sketches and directions from Bahc before his passing; however, it was reproduced at the 2004 Busan Biennale, the Los Angeles Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in the United States.
Bartomeu Marí, Director of MMCA, said about the exhibition in the press release:
Bahc Yiso is one of the most important artists of the 1980s and ’90s Korean art, and this extensive exhibition of the artist’s journey will be a rare opportunity to assess Bahc’s place within the post- 1980s Korean and world map of art.
Soo Jeong Kang
“Bahc Yiso: Memos and Memories” is on view from 26 July to 16 December 2018 at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, 313 Gwangmyeong-ro, Gwancheon-si, Gyeonggi-do, Gallery 1, 13829, Korea.
- “Landscapes Where You Live”: 4 Chinese and Korean artists at Crossing Collective in New York – August 2018 – Crossing Collective presentsw orks from Jungwoo Hong, Zhang Jian, Kakyoung Lee and Zaun Lee
- “The Most Ordinary Stories”: exploring the (extra)ordinary life of people with young Korean artist Haesun Jwa at Arario Gallery Seoul – August 2018 – Haesun Jwa presents rich insights into life through various media
- “Black Mat Oriole”: Korean artist Suki Seokyeong Kang on the invisible within society – in conversation – August 2018 – Suki Seokyeong Kang introduces the gestures of an individual movement from the classical Korean tradition
- “How Little You Know About Me”: focusing on Asia at The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, South Korea – July 2018 – MMCApresents a special Asia-focused exhibition, “How Little You Know About Me”
- The spaces that shape us: Korean artist Do Ho Suh in Venice – June 2018 – Art Radar has a look at Do Ho Suh’s work on show in Venice for the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale