I-MYU’s new gallery space was launched last week with a show by two Korean and one Korean-American artist. The gallery itself is situated in the slightly unfashionable north-east fringes of the City. Unfashionable at least from the perspective of us City types, but if your eyes stray slightly northwards on the map from I-MYU’s street the nearest “village” is trendy Hoxton, home of a lively arts scene.
The artists exhibiting in this opening show all address the past in various ways — in fact Traditional yet Contemporary can almost be seen as the theme for many Korean artists over the past forty years. Yet they also explore other aspects.
Debbie Han’s work on display falls into two categories: ceramics and photography. In the former, we see classical Greek or Roman style busts of anonymous female beauties, but produced in Koryo-style celadon porcelain, complete with the authentic network of cracks in the glaze. As if this is not enough transcultural fun, Han then plays with the facial detail of the busts, producing figures with accentuated racial stereotypical features — elongated or squashed noses, thick or thin lips — all questioning the different racial concepts of beauty.
Her large scale photography also has plays with different cultures and eras. Starting with a photograph of a live female nude, she digitally plays with the skin tones and colours to produce images which look like marble statues of Graces or Venuses from the classical era.
Shin Dong-won’s work — described as “ceramic sculpture” – takes its inspiration more from the Chosun than the Koryo dynasty: her work is in a simple white, again recalling classical marbles, but this time suggesting the reliefs to be found on temple pediments. She plays with two-dimensional planes to produce three-dimensional effects. Her subject matter in this exhibition is again rooted in a traditional past — the tradition of Korean tea — but with a modern, international and sometimes surreal twist: one of the teapots would not look out of place on an English tea table, while the stack of tea-bowls piled on the edge of another table is held in place by the power of art alone1.
Hong Ji-Yeun is something of a favourite among contemporary Korean artists. Using the themes of traditional Korean folk-painting, she brings them up-to-date with vibrant, surreal colours. She’s one of the more popular Korean artists in the auction rooms (google her name and most likely the first page of hits will be sites for art market professionals tracking the prices of the latest sales), and seems to have been adopted by the Government establishment as a representative Korean artist producing work which is typically Korean yet also modern and international in outlook. Her work is certainly distinctive and accessible, while having the historical context to give it depth.
I-MYU also showed some of the above artists’ work at the logistically challenging Bridge Art Fair. It is to be hoped that the shockingly unsuitable venue will be changed if this fair is ever to take place again in London. I hope exhibitors were not charged too much for the dubious privilege of participating in this event.
The main additional artist to feature in bedroom number 316 of the Trafalgar Hotel was Kim Duck-yong, whose oil on wood work recalls medieval altar painting. But with the work placed on the carpet leaning back against the headboard of a missing double bed, and illuminated by the bedside reading lights, one could not really enter into the necessary frame of mind to contemplate Kim’s creation. A portrait of Korean boy painted in profile hangs on a wooden wall seemingly in the middle of a clock face, his head facing towards a renaissance style Madonna and child — like Debbie Han’s work somehow playing with transcultural and transtemporal ideas.
Kim Dong-yoo’s pop art Marilyn Munro created out of tiny Mao images continued the cross-cultural theme, while unfortunately Ha Yeon-soo’s ethereal, willowy flower paintings which adorned the entrance lobby to the room could not be appreciated in the cramped space.
- Debbie Han feature in the Chosun Ilbo
- Followers of the Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will be familiar with the concept of a teacup being suspended in space by the power of art