SEOUL — The seven artists that will be represented by Gallery Hyundai in this city at TEFAF New York reflect not only the history of the 52-year-old gallery, but also South Korea’s artistic history in the decades following the Korean War.
While many galleries will display artwork of the moment, Gallery Hyundai celebrates its roots in South Korea’s now thriving art scene.
The presence of the gallery is, effective, a precursor to two major US exhibitions scheduled for the coming year, one at the Guggenheim, “The Avant-Garde: Experimental Art in South Korea in the 1960s and 1970s”, co-organized with the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul, and “The Space Between: The Modern in Korean Art,” opening in September at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which will trace the country’s art history over the coming decades to the Korean War.
Making its debut at TEFAF New York (it has been featured several times at TEFAF Maastricht), Gallery Hyundai aims to offer a bit of a time capsule of the country’s artistic history in the difficult decades following the Korean War.
Many of the artists represented at TEFAF helped shape the country’s art scene during the oft-overlooked political turmoil of those decades, paving the way for South Korea’s modernist painters and, it is estimated of some, they helped usher in the freedoms South Koreans enjoy today.
“These artists really wanted to make a problem of what art can be,” said Do Hyung-teh, the owner and chief executive of Gallery Hyundai, whose mother, Park Myung-ja, founded the gallery in 1970 when South Korea was far from a global art destination. “Several of these artists disputed the definition of art in South Korea.”
Some of those artists belong to the seven at Gallery Hyundai’s first booth at TEFAF New York: Kim Minjung, Quac Insik, Kwak Duck-jun, Lee Seung-taek, Park Hyunki, Lee Kun-yong and Lee Kang-so (the final four are expected to participate in the Guggenheim show).
It is the artwork from those early years that will be most prominent at TEFAF.
mr. Park, who died in 2000, is revered as a pioneer of Korean video art; Lee Kang-so, 79, came of age as an artist during the military dictatorship in South Korea in the 1970s and 1980s and depicted the turmoil of the time.
Mr. Quac, who died in 1988, was a key player of the Mono-ha art movement in Japan and South Korea; Lee Kun-yong, 80, is often called the father of performance art in the country; Lee Seung-taek, 89, is known for his site-specific works, among other things; Ms. Kim, 60, is known for burning and layering traditional Korean hanji paper.
But perhaps no artist embodies South Korean art as strongly as Mr. Kwak, born in 1937 to Korean immigrant parents in Japan, where he has lived most of his life.
He contracted tuberculosis in his twenties, which caused him to spend many hours of recovery painting abstract landscapes as he struggled with the disease for years.
After his recovery, he switched to photography, conceptual art, video and performance art, and was the first artist to champion Park Myung-ja when she opened Gallery Hyundai at age 27.
“Kwak is one of the leading artists and a mentor to both Japanese and Korean artists, and many Japanese artists say he was their inspiration,” said Mr. Do. “My mother’s focus was on how to take this great Korean artist abroad. In 1987, she started with one art fair in Chicago, and it grew from there.
“We wondered, ‘What’s the best way to promote them globally?’ The answer has always been art fairs,” he said.
This, said Mr. Do, was the beginning of Gallery Hyundai making a name for itself in the global market and being part of the wave of artistic expression that has defined South Korea as a global player in fine arts, film and pop music.
“We are focused on representing Korean artists abroad, and I always say that this gallery does not exist without these artists,” he said.
Such global exposure, including the gallery’s debut at TEFAF New York and upcoming exhibitions in Los Angeles and Guggenheim, has been pivotal in understanding how South Korean art has evolved and how each chapter of modern history has shaped it. , even if it is a bit slow at first compared to, say, American and European leaders of modern art.
“I think the Western public has always appreciated Korean art, but Dansaekhwa was the only style that was really known,” said Kwon Youngsook, director of the gallery, referring to the monochromatic art movement in the 1970s that brought South Korean art into the mainstream. represented abroad. “As a result, Korean avant-garde art had a delayed history.”
But that delay may have only made it more of the moment. And the motivation for a more modern approach arose from the turmoil that engulfed the country decades ago when the global art community was just awakening to South Korean art – all of this reflected in the diverse artworks that went to TEFAF New York and the Guggenheim show next year.
“Dansaekhwa came along in the 1970s and 1980s, but Korean artists were re-evaluating another branch of minimalism or abstract painting,” said Ms. Kwon. “These artists really revolutionized art and had a very different spirit and approach. They tried to find their own way.”