Lot 1084
  • 1084

Chung Sanghwa

1,800,000 - 2,500,000 HKD
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  • Chung Sanghwa
  • Untitled 82-9
  • acrylic on canvas
signed in Hanja and English, titled in Hanja, and dated 1982.9.30 on the reverse, framed


Private Collection
Seoul Auction, Hong Kong, 24 November 2014, lot 19
Acquired by the present owner from the above sale


This work is generally in good condition. There are minor paint losses on the top left corner and near the upper edge. Having examined the work under ultraviolet light, there appears to be no evidence of restoration.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

“Colour is very mysterious. Even [the] colour white has many different types. Whether Hanji (Traditional Korean paper) receives light, [is] shaded, or [gets] wet, they all show different colours.” - Chung Sanghwa

Profound Colours
Chung Sanghwa

Tansaekhwa, often referred to as “Korean monochrome painting”, arose against the gloomy political reality brought about by the totalitarian Korean government and extreme poverty of the sixties and seventies, and as an alternative to the figurative styles championed by the State as a mouthpiece for political propaganda.  The movement itself was thus inextricably linked to the founding of identity and the pursue of artistic freedom.

In an attempt to create a distinctly Korean selfhood, Tansaekhwa artists delved into the roots and traditional principles of expression in search for a new identity, reconciling the past with their own personal artistic sensitivities and pioneering ideas. As such, inherent and integral to the work of Tansaekhwa artists is the contemplation of the natural world that for millennia stemmed as a source of influence in Korean art. Moreover, Tansaekhwa artists adopted the colour white as a cultural base upon which to construct a new sense of collective identity. A ubiquitous colour of traditional Korean society, white was the colour of garments and porcelains such as the famous moon jar during the Confucian Joseon dynasty, and has been an indispensable colour in various ceremonial occasions and the cultivation of scholarly pursuits in Korea. Some scholars have likewise likened the importance placed on the colour white by Tansaekhwa artists to an “absence” of colour, symbolising perhaps the metaphoric “blank slate” upon which they would create their own artistic legacy. It is thus unsurprising that the first ever “international” exhibition of Tansaekhwa artists would be one entitled “Five Korean Artists: Five Kinds of White”, held at the Tokyo Gallery in 1975.

An accomplished artist, Chung Sanghwa, through his profound simplicity, repetition and gestural emphasis placed on his works, has gained prominence on the world stage.  Born in 1932 in South Korea, Chung spent various years abroad, moving between Japan and France from the sixties to the nineties, before settling down permanently in South Korea. On offer in our autumn sales, are works that are representative of Chung’s entire artistic oeuvre and the various creative shifts the artist underwent. While  the 1968 Untitled showcases early meditations on Chung’s famous ‘peeling’ process, two monochrome canvases, namely a cerulean Untitled 88-7-18 and a stunning white monochrome Untitled 82-9, exhibit the full extent of Chung’s development in his most recognisable style.

Chung’s oeuvre is one that is deeply contemplative; expression of thought through the physical qualities of materiality rather than figurative representation is his desired result. From afar, the surface of his canvases may appear flat, close scrutiny reveals subtle three-dimensional, complex lattices, created through the repeated action of “taking off” and “re-painting” the surface, until small traces of squares or triangles remain. Beginning in the late fifties, Chung’s early works resembled “patches”, and were flatter when compared to his later pieces. Gradually, the incorporation of various shapes and different lattice formations would breathe new life into his oeuvre.

The later series is laboriously created by first composing a base layer with zinc primer on canvases, before the dry canvas is folded at regular intervals and the fragments of paint removed from the cracked lines, subsequently then filling those voids with acrylic paint. The results are organically formed grooves that contain the methodic labours of Chung’s creation. When compared to earlier works, the heavy emphasis placed on creating a strong base for the canvases is indicative of Chung’s growing fascination with marrying painting with sculpture, whereas rare early works were pure distillations of the artist’s early brainstormings of abstraction.

This emphasis on materiality in later works intensifies the viewer’s encounter with the artwork and breaks down the traditional hierarchy of power between the artist and the viewer, as it ultimately anticipates a reciprocal “encounter” rather than a sheer glimpsing. The repetitious removing and repainting of countless times might seem reckless; everything is obliterated until nothing seems to be there, and yet the delicate vestiges produced through this journey of the repeated process epitomises the astute depth of creation and Tansaekhwa itself.

In Untitled 82-9 (Lot 1084) the physical disposition of the picture plane is heightened. Art critic Oh Kwang-Su expressed that Chung’s “screens are full of tension formed by the attraction of two levels of width and depth.”1 The contents of each small grid throughout Chung’s artistic output is unique and always slightly different to its neighbour, different in how matte or flat it appears, and as can perhaps be most clearly seen in Untitled 88-7-18 (Day Sale Lot 719), each lattice is generally similar in size. Rare in Untitled 82-9 is its more profound play on materiality and texture due to the gradation in the width of the grids, where they are smaller and denser in the corners and radiate and widen in the centre of the canvas, an unusual finish for the artist. Painted in a brilliant white, the work exudes an almost sculptural quality, and is undeniably ethereal, as if bathed in light.

Chung first started working on and producing pieces with fractal patterns and grid-like structures in the fifties, and further developed this concept after his long sojourn in Japan, and brief stay in France. Having been surrounded by talk of the Informel movement, the artist mused upon the materiality of canvas and paint, seeing the relation between the two akin to the moulding of sculptural works. This is self-evident in Untitled 82-9. Chung began to challenge the constraints of flat works, leaning more towards three-dimensionality, and thus injecting a new and exciting sculptural quality into his works. Gradually, the artist would swap primary colours which can be seen in the early 1969 Work 69-64 (Day Sale Lot 720) for a monochromatic palette, and by 1973, the artist had all but abandoned formal “representation” in its traditional sense, and fully transitioned to abstraction. 

Drawing the viewer into the picture plane, with its tension of width and depth, Chung’s canvases are meticulous in creation and stunning in person. By extending existing Eastern aesthetics and challenging the confines of canvases, Chung has redefined what it means to be a Korean abstract artist, and has created a subtly magnificent oeuvre that reveals itself to be as stunning in person as it is fastidious in method. With his works often the results of months of labour, sometimes even a year, Chung Sang-Hwa reveals himself to be an artist who is a perfectionist, bar none. It thus comes as no surprise that he has more than solidified his position as one of the stars of Korean abstract art.  

1 South Korea, Seoul, Gallery HYUNDAI, Chung Sang Hwa, 1 July - 30 July, 2014, p. 57