By Julie Baumgardner
The Venice Biennale is an international expedition—so noting artists from across the world may seem a bit like pointing out the obvious. However, with the inclusion of three Korean women artists in Ralph Rugoff’s main show, May You Live in Interesting Times, and a few off-sites of other major Korean artists, the work put into increasing the exposure of contemporary Korean art (across the entire of the global landscape) is paying off.
At the very least, international curators and collectors are recognizing South Korea’s wealth of contemporary and Modern artists, all of whom are on par with the boldfaced names more familiar to international audiences. Inclusion in the Biennale’s main show is certainly linked to career success and recognition, but as galleries and collectors also orchestrate off-sites of importance, these opportunities become their own symbols of stature.
South Korea is a relatively young country in its current form, a modern industrialized nation with the 11th largest global economy. It also has a long, ongoing tradition of art and culture—especially contemporary artists who’ve been working in dialogue with both their own vernaculars and more international modes of art making. Now, Korean artists are being exported to the West and global collectors are snapping up works—beyond just the market-hot Dansaekhwa (a style of monochrome paintings that emerged in Korea in the 1970s)—by the likes of Anicka Yi, Lee Bul and Suki Seokyeong Kang (who are, in fact, the artists selected by Rugoff for May You Live in Interesting Times).
Beyond just the main show, Seoul’s Gallery Hyundai has taken over Palazzo Caboto, Palazzo Cabato, nestled right between the Arsenale and Giardini; meanwhile, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA) has staged a huge retrospective of Yun Hyong-Keun in the Palazzo Fortuny, in what used to be the grand site of Axel Vervoordt’s beloved cross-disciplinary transhistorical expositions. To best familiarize yourself with the big names coming out of Korea, here are five artists showing at the 58th Venice Biennale—this isn’t the last time you’ll see them on an international stage.
Suki Seokyeong Kang
Though perhaps not as well known as Yi or Bul, that shall soon change for Suki Seokyeong Kang, whose work consists of powerful sculptures and equally powerful performances that utilize them. Take Grandmother’s Tower—on view inside the Giardini—her signature pieces that, the artist has explained, come from watching her glamorous grandmother age and begin using a walker. Rather than a depressing representation, Seokyeong Kang’s sculptures allow for life and movement to thrive, and capture the magic of the human condition.