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Covering things Korean in London and beyond since 2006

Exhibition visit: To the furthest verge

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

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.

Dong Won Shin

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

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 Duck-yong

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.


  1. 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 []

One thought on “Exhibition visit: To the furthest verge

  1. As you might have gathered from my postscript above, at the appalling Bridge Art Fair in the Trafalgar Hotel the emphasis was more on the fairground than the gallery. Having a day job, I was unable to attend the afternoon preview and instead went to the evening reception, which had a mixed attendance, from your average Joe to those who seemed to think that the event was part of the London Season. Many of the female visitors were using the occasion as an opportunity to show off their legs and their latest cocktail frocks — some were even sporting the sort of hats you normally see at a society wedding. Meanwhile the immaculately coiffed chalk-stripe besuited menfolk confidently cruised the floors, their obligatory pink shirts clashing with their perma-tanned faces, somehow managing to look nonchalant and predatory at the same time. In such a horrific scenario one needs a bracing snifter to give one dutch courage, but the only drinks to be had were in the street level bar (three floors below my own main area of interest), where you had to sustain a barrage of rather empty electronica music in order to gain your prize. One or two exhibitors in the bedrooms upstairs had sensibly laid in their own supplies.

    Navigating between the floors required squeezing into the elevators, which were illuminated by rather painful-on-the-eyes blue fluorescent tubes, or climbing the cramped and sweaty back stairs, where at least you could appreciate the legs being so generously displayed by the would-be it-girls.

    As for exhibition space, exhibitors had to choose between leaving the bed in place, thus making the room even more of a crush, or removing it entirely (goodness only knows where all the surplus beds were piled up) leaving in place the headboard oddly fixed to the wall. As for the bathroom, some exhibitors chose to use it as a store room, while others elected to make use of the extra display space, balancing art works precariously on the vanity units or in the shower cubicles.

    Whether buyers get their cheque books out in such conditions I somehow doubt. Even enticing them into the rooms was a challenge, as it was nigh-on impossible to see from outside the room what was on offer within. It is to be hoped that the organisers have a radical re-think of the venue should they decide to re-run the fair next year, because I cannot imagine that the exhibitors got value for money for their space.

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