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8 Korean artists to see in Dubai

An introduction to the talent behind the exhibition Korean Art — A Contemporary Take on Texture

The artists forge their work from an extremely subtle cultural legacy, which, much like the region, sits in a constant state of flux between tradition and innovation.

Following several group shows with a strong focus on a singular subject, Opera Gallery Dubai’s first exhibition for 2019 is a country-driven exhibition titled Korean Art – A Contemporary Take on Texture.

Through a significant, curated selection of recent works by 19 artists, the gallery presents a panoramic representation of regional craft, with a highlight on texture and each artist’s relationship with uncanny mediums.

The exhibition covers trends ranging from traditional Korean art up to the Dansaekhwa Movement of the 1970s, or the Minjung Misol from the 1980s onwards. The artists forge their work from an extremely subtle cultural legacy, which, much like the region, sits in a constant state of flux between tradition and innovation. They attempt to reference complex issues surrounding society’s evolution in a nurturing space within nature, which has been jeopardised by industrialisation, the impact of the digital era or the ethical limits of major scientific and medical progress in the 21st century. The lucidity, dynamism and anticonformism that emerge from these creations, and in turn this exhibition, enhance the pertinent, wider universal themes of the international world of contemporary art.

Whether using classical materials such as oil paint, ink, ‘Hanji’ paper made from the Korean mulberry tree, or less-expected industrial materials including cycle chains, steel nails, polycarbonate or copper piping, these creations are generally marked by a calm sense of minimalist clarity.

The artists forge their work from an extremely subtle cultural legacy, which, much like the region, sits in a constant state of flux between tradition and innovation.

Seo Young-Deok

Contemporary Korean artist Seo Young-Deok is a metalsmith and sculptor. He has captivated audiences by producing life-size, hyper-realistic sculptures of the human body made with welded iron or stainless-steel chains using the parts from bicycles and industrial machinery.

Following numerous studies of the natural human form, his sculptures deliver epic narrations of humanity and modernity where stories are only inferred by the mere expressions of their bodies rather than the context of their surroundings. Seo explores the relationship between human and the modern environment through the creative repurposing of iron chains — a material that has been critical to the development of the modern world and Korea’s manufacturing industry. Inspired by his own rural upbringing in contrast to his urban adult life, he uses chains to question the industrialisation of labour that has become synonymous with today’s human condition.

While being artistically repurposed, his meticulous manipulation of the iron chains exposes their monotonous and repetitive nature. Seo’s sculptures of the human body exist either fragmented or as a whole. Each iron piece is welded together to become a part of the dynamic system of organic connectivity exhibited through his human forms. While the material may be physically strong, its structural completeness is what exudes the strength of the human spirit. In a varying series — his series of sculptures with torn limbs and viscerally burned human torsos reflected the pain, suffering and decay from the experience of his family’s generation working in Korea’s industrialisation era.

By constantly weighing the dichotomy between “complete” and “incomplete” existence, Seo addresses the inevitable social inequalities of the industrial system.

Seo graduated from the Environmental Sculpture department of the University of Seoul in 2008. In the same year he received the Grand Prize for the 9th National Undergraduate and Graduate Students Sculpture Competition. Although Seo’s works have largely only been exhibited in South Korea, his international exhibitions in the last two years have been met with much critical acclaim. He lives and works in South Korea.


Chae Sung-Pil

Chae’s work combines traditional Oriental aesthetic with Western art. He uses a palette of soil pigment, collected from various journeys around the world, which he then filters, dilutes with water and mixes with glue to create abstracted textural surfaces “reminiscent of the skin of the earth itself”. The organic mixture is applied onto the canvas with a large brush.

Born in South Korea, Chae lives and works near Paris, France. He is currently a doctoral candidate for Plastic Arts at the Université de Paris. He holds an MA and BA from Seoul National University and a second master’s from the Université de Rennes.

Chae won the “invited artist” honour three years in a row at the St Grégoire Art Fair as well as the “Grand Prix” of Saint Briac Art Fair in France.


Lee Jae-Hyo

Born in Hapchen, Lee produces immaculately formed, intricate sculptures that reveal his mastery over his materials.

In the Gyeonggi Province, where he lives, in the south of Seoul, the forest and the Han River are never far away. The subject of nature is central to the art of Lee Jae Hyo. It is the energy of nature, the uncluttered lines and the simplicity of its elements, which informs his works. It is fundamental to Lee Jae Hyo that the hand follows the essence of the material, working with it with it not against. The material guides the gesture and the texture decides the form.

Lee shares a great respect for raw materials but also a will to dominate what nature has provided. His wood-on-wood combinations read as playful meditations on the multifaceted nature of the material itself. What unites his works is a belief that the beauty of art is a product of the labour from whence it came, whether this be the meticulous carving of larch trunks into the form of a perfect sphere or, equally, the precise bending and sanding of thousands of nails hammered one after another into a hunk of cut lumber.

Among many other distinctions, He was the Grand Prize winner at the Osaka Triennial in 1998 and recipient of the prestigious Irish Sculpture in Woodland commission in 2002. His works are held in public and private collections across Europe, Asia and North America.


Bahk Seon Ghi

Known for exploring the relationship between nature and humanity with his distinct charcoal installations, Bahk creates delicate structures by repurposing natural resources, charcoal in particular, and suspending them with transparent nylon thread.

He has degrees from the Chung-Ang University in Seoul, the Accademia di Belle Arti Brera in Milan and the Barnet and Southgate College in London. Born in 1966, the artist lives and works in Kyeong Ki-Do.

He was awarded the Kim Chong Yung Sculpture Award in 2006.


Cho Sung-Hee

In constructing the surface of her works, Cho uses a collage method in which many circles are hand-cut or gently torn from traditional “hanji” paper, then layered with oil pigments and placed one atop another. She successfully combines a traditional Korean sensibility with her unique vision and personal narrative. Her works explore the complex relationship between colour and texture through a labour-intensive, time-consuming process.

Born in Korea in 1949, her works have been exhibited and collected in various prestigious private and public institutions including Seoul’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Sejong Art Centre in Seoul, Telentine Art Centre in Chicago, the LA Korea Cultural Service in Los Angeles, New York Cultural Service, Mutual Saving and Finance Company in Seoul and Domino Foods Inc, New York.


Hwang Ran

The Korean installation artist studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York, USA, and attended the Graduate School of Fine Arts at Chung-Ang University in Seoul, Korea. She is best known for her mesmerising, large-scale wall installations constructed from thousands of meticulously placed buttons, beads, pins and threads on wooden panels. Hwang hammers thousands of man-made elements into a support with an almost Zen-like meditative process. her works suggest, metaphorically and paradoxically, the resilience and persistence of nature in the face of mass commercial production, ironically including materials such as those she uses in her works.

Hwang has held exhibitions notably in the USA at the International Museum of Art & Science in McAllen, Texas, as its first artist-in-residence, as well as at MASS MoCA in Massachusetts, The Queens Museum of Art in New York, The Hudson Valley Centre for the Arts in New York, the Chelsea Art Museum in New York and the Seoul Arts Centre in Korea. Her work is included in the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum, the Hammond Museum, the Hermès Singapore Collection, The North Salem Museum in New York and the Des Moines Art Centre in Iowa.


Lee Gil Rae

Born in Yeongam-gun, Lee graduated with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fine art and sculpture from Kyunghee University in Seoul, Korea. For the past 20 years, he has followed nature as his muse, crafting intricate, organic, tree-form sculptures from steel and copper pipes, in response to continued deforestation, depletion of natural resources and environment crisis. Lee’s trees are made with permanence in mind. They have become an artificial simulation of nature, urbanised and visionary, transforming the physical properties of plant life into modern, mechanical forms.

Lee has participated in numerous exhibitions worldwide and features in numerous private and public collections.


Son Bong-Chae

A pioneer of the 3D painting genre, Son Bong-Chae was born in Hwasun County, South Korea. He received his BFA from Chosun University in Gwangju, and his MFA from the prestigious Pratt Institute in New York. Son employs a layered painting process to create ethereal landscapes reminiscent of traditional Korean landscape painting. Each work is composed of the artist’s signature trees, painted in oil onto multiple layers of polycarbonate, a special type of bulletproof glass 300 times stronger than acrylic glass. Illuminated by a luminescent diode, a type of lighting similar to LED, these landscapes evoke both the memory of traditional painting and the timelessness of the scene.

In 1997, at the age of 30 Son became the youngest person to participate in the Gwangju Biennale. He has since participated in numerous solo exhibitions internationally and an extensive list of biennales, and his work appears in collections including the National Museum of Contemporary Art and the Gwangiu Biennale Foundation Korea, and the Korean Cultural Centre in Shanghai, China.


Korean Art – A Contemporary Take on Texture runs at the Opera Gallery Dubai March 13-28.

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