K orean culture is having a moment. When the art world descended on Seoul last week for the newest iteration of Frieze art fair - cementing the city’s position as a burgeoning global art market hub - it was only the latest instance of a K-fever that has gripped the globe.
Recent years have seen the phenomenal rise of K-pop, headed by BTS (now the biggest selling band in the world), the series Squid Game top the Netflix charts for weeks on end, and Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite become the first non-English language film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. This pervasive cultural influence will be further underlined later this month by the major exhibition ‘Hallyu! The Korean Wave’ being staged at London’s V&A.
Korea is also a country of contrasts. Alongside these recent pop-cultural phenomena, museums around the world have been celebrating the country’s rich tradition in the fine and decorative arts, from calligraphy and 12th-century Celadon ceramics, to the masters of Modern painting. The quiet, minimal elegance of these practices, and their emphasis on craftmanship and materiality, is a thread that runs throughout the history of art in Korea.
Here are six Korean works to be offered across Sotheby’s collecting categories this autumn, from monochrome Dansaekhwa painting to kaleidoscopic Kawaii Pop.
The sculptural creations of Seoul-based artist Chun Kwang-Young recall the cratered surface of the moon, or crystalline rock formations. Called Aggregations, the works are composed of hundreds of small paper-wrapped parcels. Each of these parcels is wrapped with traditional Korean hanji paper, salvaged from discarded books. By using these handcrafted papers derived from the mulberry tree, Chun breathes new life into a centuries-old tradition.
As a leading figure of the Dansaekhwa movement, Yun Hyong-keun has had resounding influence post-war Korean art. The term ‘Dansaekhwa’ (monochrome painting) refers to a group of artists who emerged in the 1960s and pioneered a new abstract language for Korean Modern art. Inspired by Korean calligraphy, Yun Hyongkeun’s work conveys a sense of purity and stillness rooted in Eastern spiritual practices.
“I want to make paintings that, like nature, one never tires of looking at. That is all I want in my art.”
So Youn Lee
Los Angeles-based artist So Youn Lee’s optimistic, dream-like canvasses recall the ‘superflat’ aesthetic of Takashi Murakami and the pop culture of her childhood. Her work revolves around the character ‘Mango’, who embodies Lee’s explorations of ‘the essence of human being'.
Joohee Park, known as Stickymonger, is a New York-based artist who works across a range of media to create surreal animation-inspired universes, populated by wide-eyed characters.
Young Lim Lee
"I like to let the childlike-self inside me be free to play around with images and ideas swirling within my imagination. The childlike mindset helps me to expand upon the meaning of an object and view the world in more fluid, unusual ways."
Hee Rin Yang
A kaleidoscopically-coloured cast of characters inhabit Hee Rin Yang’s street-art inspired series of ‘Dream Wanderers’.
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