Between meditation and matter, thought and vision, the exhibition “The Eastern Gesture – Five Voices from the Korean Avant-garde” to be held at the Dep Art Gallery in Milan from 3 March to 9 May 2020, highlights the research made by five artists, who from the late 1950s have shaped and redefined Korean contemporary art: Chun Kwang Young, Park Seobo, Lee Bae, Lee Ufan, Kim Tschang-Yeul.
Fifteen medium and large format artworks, selected by the curator Gianluca Ranzi, bring out the complex dialectics between renewal and tradition that has involved the country in forty years of political and social agitations.
Along with Lee Ufan and Park Seobo, Kim Tschang-Yeul (b. 1929) is one of the key figures in the Korean art renovation which started between the 1950s and the ’60s. Looking at the European Art informel and at the Abstract Expressionism, Kim Tschang-Yeul improved his personal style, characterised by pictorial constellations of water drops, painted with hyper-realistic precision on backgrounds that can be neutral or covered with ideograms. His paint is moving within abstraction and figurations, becoming a meditative mantra that restrains the ego, in favour of a more spiritual, and sometimes even therapeutic, space.
Born in the early 1970s and now the protagonist of large retrospectives in the most important museums worldwide, the artistic movement Dansaekhwa developed an inclination to a monochrome minimalism that enhances the physicality on the painting. Park Seobo (1931) takes part in the group, resuming the traditional use of the Hanji paper for his works, characterised by a linear and rigorous abstraction, in which he expunges the artist’s ego, looking for a meditative and objective void, articulated by the vertical lines in relief and by their shades.
Among the artist members of the Dansaekhwa group, Lee Ufan (1936) is the most renowned internationally, thanks to his participation as an artist and theorist in the Japanese Mono-Ha group. He developed a reductionist painting made of lines and fluid brushstrokes, mindful of the calligraphic tradition, which in his work generates correspondences and dialogues between full and void, questioning not only the artwork itself, but also the surrounding environments.
Chung Kwang Young (1944) collides painting and sculpture in surfaces animated by myriads of Mulberry paper packages dyed with tea or other natural pigments, a childhood memory related to the Korean habit of packing medicinal herbs and spices with sheets of newspaper. As the title of these paintings says, they are “aggregations” of harmony and conflict, of nature and culture, of order and chaos.
Lee Bae (1956) works with silent compositions that combine all the chromatic possibilities of the colour black, achieved through thin layers of charcoal or burnt-wood foils. The combustion and the fire consequences allude to the metamorphosis that effects everything, considering, at the same time, the pictorial space as an event susceptible to the action of the time, opening also to the fourth dimension.