B. 1942, Sariwon, Korea. Lives and works in Seoul and Gunsan, South Korea.

For Lee Kun-yong, the process of creating an artwork is as worthy of being viewed as the final product. The artist—considered one of the fathers of Korean performance art—has built a career on highlighting art as a process, making a show of the mechanical movements and tiny irregularities in how an artist physically constructs a piece. Works like Snail’s Gallop (1979/2017) or Bodyscape 76-1-2018 (2018) are as much records of Lee’s movement through space as they are abstract, gestural pieces in their own right.
Over the course of a nearly 50-year career, Lee has proven instrumental in the development of the Korean avant-garde, from his continued experiments with performance and gesture to his integral role in influential artist circles such as the Avant-Garde Group and the Space and Time Group.
Lee Kun-yong
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Lee Kun-yong
In the past few years, he’s begun to garner more international acclaim. After years of steady exhibitions at Korean art spaces including Gallery Hyundai and Leeahn Gallery, 2018 saw Lee show at Sydney’s 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, followed by solo shows at Pace Gallery’s Seoul and Hong Kong spaces in 2019 and 2020, respectively. The artist’s obsession with the minutiae of physicality proves as resonant today as it did a half-century ago.

The Artsy Vanguard 2020

The Artsy Vanguard 2020 is our annual list of the most promising artists shaping the future of contemporary art. This year, artists are organized into two categories: Newly Emerging, which presents artists who’ve gained momentum in the past year, showing at leading institutions and galleries; and Getting Their Due, which identifies artists who have persevered for decades, yet only recently received the spotlight they deserve. Now in its third edition, the feature was developed by the Artsy staff, in collaboration with our network of international curators and art professionals. Explore more of The Artsy Vanguard 2020.
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Justin Kamp is an Editorial Intern at Artsy.
Header and thumbnail image, from left to right: Lee Kun-yong, “The Method of Drawing 76-1-78-1,” 1978; Lee Kun-yong, “Bodyscape 76-1-2019,” 2019; Portrait of Lee Kun-yong. Courtesy of Leeahn Gallery, Daegu and Seoul; Lee Kun-yong, “The Method of Drawing 76-4,” 1976/2010s. All artwork images courtesy of the artist and Gallery Hyundai, Seoul.