Wook-Kyung Choi (1940-1985) is mostly known for her association with Abstract Expressionism, one of the major movements that prevailed in the United States upon the artist’s arrival. Shortly after graduating from the College of Fine Arts at Seoul National University in 1963, Choi moved to the United States, studied painting at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, and later received her Master’s degree in Fine Arts from the Brooklyn Museum School of Art. Over a span of ten years, Choi taught painting at Franklin Pierce College (1968-1971), Atlanta College of Arts (1974-1976), and University of Wisconsin, Madison (1977-78), while establishing her career as an artist. Choi spent almost half of her life in the U.S.; her short yet prolific artistic career was crystallized during her American years.
In the late 1960s, Choi began to incorporate a wide range of colors in her paintings, abstract mark-making, and collage techniques. Her collages denote Choi’s curiosity and engagement with popular media alongside her interest in experimenting with forms and materials. In her works, the artist would glue cut magazines and papers in dynamic arrangements and apply acrylic or ink paint to accentuate visual relationships. While her use of appropriated language and imagery does not directly reflect a specific message, the repeated appearance of female images in her works alludes to Choi’s interest in cultural critique and self-reflection as a female artist. For Choi, the combination of her gestural abstraction with printed mediums and vigorous use of color activated her works, allowing both her and viewers to become socially engaged. Her works offer a rare window into Choi’s personal life story as well as her poignant response to the charged social milieu of 1960s and ‘70s America.
Choi mentioned, “Both my paintings and poems are about my life, but I am not simply telling stories…I am trying to express, visually and verbally, my experience of the events lived. I hope to share, to communicate, and to create an empathy for the experience.”
Choi continued her career as an artist and professor after she returned to Korea in 1978, teaching at Yeungnam University and later at Duksung Women’s University. Choi’s engagement with Western movements set her apart from her contemporaries such as the Dansaekhwa artists, as evident in her bold painterly styles and vibrant color palettes. Choi’s challenge to the orthodoxy of the Korean art scene came in many different forms: abstract paintings, ink drawings, paper collages, and figure drawings.
Wook-Kyung Choi’s works were recently exhibited in “Women in Abstraction” at Centre Pompidou in Paris, France. In October 2021, Choi’s major retrospective will be held at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA), Korea. Among many institutions, Choi’s works are collected by the Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai; Missouri State University, Kansas, Missouri; Skowhegan School Foundation, New York; Colby College of Art Museum, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gawcheon, Korea; Seoul National University, Seoul; Duksung Women’s University, Seoul; Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul.