Exhibitions in Seoul devoted to Wook-kyung Choi and Yong-Ik Kim give a sense of Korean artists’ vibrant responses to the monochrome Dansaekhwa movement of the 1970s.
By Bansie Vasvani
SEOUL — Coming on the heels of the recent surge of interest in South Korea’s Dansaekhwa art movement of the 1970s, there is a new urgency to frame the trajectory of modern art history in the country. According to Hyun-Sook Lee, the founder of Kukje Gallery and one of the people responsible for bringing Dansaekhwa art to worldwide attention, establishing the trajectory of Korean art since the ‘70s is crucial. Two current exhibitions at Kukje Gallery and the Ilmin Museum of Art contextualize the development of modern art in the country by two important South Korean artists: Wook-kyung Choi, the first female Korean artist to make work inspired by Abstract Expressionism in the late ‘60s; and Yong-Ik Kim, the conceptual artist whose early work coincided with the struggle for Korean democracy in the ‘80s.
[...] Marking a huge departure from her male compatriots in Korea — whose meditative Dansaekhwa practices, characterized by subdued colors and repetitive geometric lines, have been described by the pioneer of the movement, Park Seo-bo, as having “no purpose” at all — Choi paved the way for bold new experimentation. [...] Although Choi’s career was cut short in 1985 by her untimely death at the age of 45, her fearless undertaking of a completely new method of expression would set the stage for younger Korean artists like Lee Bul and Kyungah Ham, who work with many different media and techniques.
Similarly, Yong-Ik Kim’s art developed as a strong response to the strictures, discipline, and unobtrusiveness of the Dansaekhwa movement. More in keeping with the ideology of the leftist Minjung art (or “people’s art”) movement of the ‘80s that sprang up as a result of the Gwangju uprising, Kim’s defiance of the status quo placed him at the forefront of a new line of conceptual artists who had a strong influence on art practices in South Korea beyond the ’70s.