Dansaekhwa—the Korean Abstract Movement Touted as “The Next Gutai”—Arrives in Brussels

Apr 7, 2016 11:04PM
Conjunction 86-002, 1986
Kukje Gallery

In the early 1970s, when Korean painters first started working in what later became known as Dansaekhwa, their movement didn’t have a name. The Republic of Korea was living under a military dictatorship; everything from educational curriculums to aesthetic norms were defined and enforced by the regime. The new artistic movement was, to put it simply, a challenge to the status quo.

The term Dansaekhwa, which roughly translates to “monochrome painting,” was coined years after the movement began. Quiet rebellion was a motivation shared by the artists involved, painters who worked largely underground, mostly independent from each other, and often in obscurity. Decades later, the movement has more than a name: Dansaekhwa has considerable momentum in the contemporary art markets of Asia, Europe, and the U.S. It has even been touted as “the next Gutai.”

Now, in a joint venture between Kukje Gallery in Seoul, Tina Kim Gallery in New York, and Boghossian Foundation in Brussels, the Belgian space plays host to the country’s first major exhibition of its kind: “When Process Becomes Form: Dansaekhwa and Korean Abstraction.”

The group show features an array of artists, including Chung Chang-Sup (1927–2011), who was recently the subject of a solo show in Kukje’s Seoul space. In Brussels, his Tak 86055 (1986) stands alongside the works of six other artists: Chung Sang-Hwa, Ha Chong-Hyun, Kim Whanki, Kwon Young-Woo, Lee Ufan, and Park Seo-Bo. Taken together, their works exemplify the defining characteristics of Dansaekhwa: earthy hues and an absence of bright colors in compositions that are abstract yet evocative of naturally occurring shapes and textures. If these pieces remind you of ripples in a pond, the bark of a tree, or the imprint of a fallen leaf, you’re not mistaken: Dansaekhwa may not be figurative, but it’s often representative of nature.

Untitled, 1984
Kukje Gallery

All of this stood in contrast to artwork that was popular in Korea during the late 1960s and early ’70s. Stylistically, the movement had more in common with concurrently produced paintings in the U.S. and Europe. Although Dansaekhwa artists were inspired by their Western contemporaries, they didn’t imitate pure abstraction; they interpreted it through a Korean lens.

Though many of the movement’s leading artists didn’t receive much recognition in their own lifetimes, this new show, on grand display at the historic Villa Empain in Brussels, corrects that omission by shining a light on one of Asian art’s most important artistic developments.

Bridget Gleeson

When Process Becomes Form: Dansaekhwa and Korean Abstraction” is on view at the Boghossian Foundation, Brussels, Feb. 20–Apr. 24, 2016.

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