Tina Kim Gallery Presents Group Exhibition Focused on the Emergence of South Korea’s Contemporary Art Scene
“Two Hours” Features Painting, Sculpture, Video, and Mixed Media Works by Yiso Bahc, Seoyoung Chung, and Beom Kim
On view September 22 - October 29, 2016
Opening Reception: Thursday, September 22, 2016 | 6PM – 8PM
Special Panel at NYU: Friday, September 23, 2016 | 5PM – 6PM
September 20, 2016 (New York, NY) – Tina Kim Gallery is pleased to present Two Hours, an exhibition curated by Hyunjin Kim featuring work by three seminal contemporary South Korean artists: Yiso Bahc (1956-2004), Seoyoung Chung (b. 1964) and Beom Kim (b. 1963). Comprised of 42 works made between the late 1990’s and the early 2000’s – a period of dramatic change in South Korea as the country transitioned from a military dictatorship to a civilian government and established a more open economy – Two Hours provides an inevitable basis for understanding the emergence of South Korea’s contemporary art scene.
The title of the exhibition is taken from a video work created by Yiso Bahc in 2002 that records the movement of the sun over a span of two hours in the early evening, just as day is transitioning into night. The video demonstrates Bahc grappling with a moment of ambiguity as he attempts to capture time in flux. This exercise of delving into uncertainty relates to the three artists’ individual struggles as they each attempted to define contemporary art in South Korea through their work amidst the major shifts in Korean society that took place at the turn of the century.
Since the 1950’s – following the end of the Japanese occupation – South Korean artists have developed a unique art history that reflects both the country’s traditional aesthetics and the influence of modern and contemporary art movements from the West. Due to this complex balance of old and new artistic practices in Korea, artists from the region have often struggled to establish their own identity – a challenge that became even more pertinent in the 90’s and 2000’s when the rise of a new consumer culture and a more liberal marketplace in Korea led many artists to leave the country for the U.S. and Europe to study the prevalent Western art movements at the time, including postmodernism and conceptual art. Upon returning to Korea, these artists contributed to a critical moment for contemporary art in South Korea as cultural diversity, critical studies, and new underground art scenes began to flourish throughout the country, and conceptual art became a part of the mainstream. It is within this context that Yiso Bahc, Seoyoung Chung, and Beom Kim established themselves as leading contemporary artists in the region, particularly through their desire to define modern and contemporary art not by Western ideals, but rather by the political, social, and aesthetic themes that were specific to Korea.
However, while the significance of their contributions to Korean contemporary art cannot be denied, these artists were often misrepresented under the confused reality of the Korean art scene in the 1990’s, in which both modern and contemporary art movements coexisted and were often not differentiated. As a result, these artists, and many of their peers, have fallen into a interstitial role having come “too early” to capitalize on the growing art market and cultural embrace of contemporary art at the time, and “too late” to have been grandfathered into the historic milieu of Korean modernism.
Two Hours at Tina Kim Gallery attempts to remedy this oversight by showcasing how these three artists not only shared artistic sympathies, but also created works that reflected the many themes that would come to dominate contemporary art trends in the new millennium in South Korea.
After attending universities in South Korea in the 1980’s, Bahc and Kim traveled to the U.S. to continue their studies, while Chung traveled to Germany. While this time abroad allowed the artists to develop a new global perspective and gain a comprehensive understanding of artistic practices in the West, they decided not to adhere to the mainstream Western styles that many considered superior at the time. Rather, upon returning to Seoul in the mid-1990’s, the artists dedicated themselves to creating a contemporary artistic discourse that reflected the complexities and particularities of Korean society. They refused to produce works in a signature style or medium, and instead experimented across sculpture, installation, two-dimensional drawings, and video. Bahc, Chung, and Kim distinguished themselves by incorporating critical commentary into their work without rejecting popular Korean idioms such as materiality, demonstrated by their use of mass market objects to engage with Korea’s rapid industrialization at the time. The artists also employed dark humor in their works to satirize society’s focus on creating grand narratives and challenge the irrationality and unethicality that they endured in their everyday lives.
One of the most recognized Korean artists of the 1990’s, Yiso Bahc obtained his BFA in painting from Hongik University in Seoul in 1981, after which he spent nearly fifteen years studying and working in New York before returning to Korea. In the years following his return, Bahc’s work increasingly garnered international attention, and in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, he participated in numerous art biennials and exhibitions across Asia, Europe, and the U.S. Throughout his career, Bahc grappled with the challenge of connecting local Korean idioms with Western art theories. He strongly argued that the arc of art history in South Korea must be articulated differently than that of the West, and instead proposed a more local and regional context for Korea’s burgeoning art scene that focused on the rapid industrialization that defined Korean society at the time. Bahc actively participated in contemporary art criticism, keenly addressing this discrepancy between Korea’s deep fascination with the Western discourse of post-modernism and the need for Korea to establish its own artistic identity separate from outside influences. Focusing on his own status as a minority within American society from his time in New York, Bahc imbued his artworks with a nihilistic sense of humor that at once satirized consumer culture while also revealing the poetic ephemerality and fragility of those living on the margins of an industrial society, which can be illustrated in Bahc’s drawing We Are Happy (2004). In works such as Beginnings (2000), Avantgarde (1997), and World Chair (2001), Bahc interrogates such fundamental concepts as the notion of ‘art’ and the artists’ vain yet often futile desire to become a part of the art historical cannon.
Born in Seoul in 1964, Seoyoung Chung explores questions of form and materiality through various genres, including sculpture, installation, drawing, and performance. In her work, Chung emphasizes the arbitrariness and absurdity of everyday objects by combining cheap, Korean-made construction materials from the country’s 1990s manufacturing boom – including styrofoam, linoleum, lumber, and plywood – with abstract work titles such as The Sculpted Bride (1997) and Ghost will be better (2000-2005) that imbue these otherwise banal objects with almost humane-like characteristics. Chung also discerns allegories from the sculptural situations and abstract language created by the physical surfaces and material nuances in her works. In her carbon paper drawing series (1996-2000), which will be exhibited on one wall of the gallery, Chung creates stencil-like replicas of South Korea’s new industrial landscape. Compiled from the artist’s edited images of the new factories and cheap building materials scattered throughout cities in South Korea, these works are based on the modality of an urban environment in a culture of rapid manufacturing.
Similar to Chung, Beom Kim transforms ordinary, everyday objects in order to emphasize the limitations of our visual perception and reveal the profound possibilities once we tap into the power of our imaginations. In works such as the concise how-to guidebook The Art of Transformation (1997), Kim offers readers instructions on how they can transform themselves into inanimate objects such a tree or a rock. Other pieces on view such as the mixed media work The Tree that Became Man and Found its Own Picture in Its Dream (1998) suggest a situation in which one may be in the state of a dream, while the drawing, Practice for Good Samaritan (1995), provides a scenario of slight humor by inviting viewers to participate in an activity that offers guidance on how to be a good Samaritan.
Through exploring the shared language and unique characteristic of Yiso Bahc, Seoyoung Chung, and Beom Kim’s practice, Two Hours offers new methods for understanding the development of contemporary art in South Korea and reaffirms these artists’ significant contributions during a period of radical social change in the region.