London Korean Links

Covering things Korean in London and beyond since 2006

Distinctively Korean sales at Christie’s

Coinciding with the interest in Korean art being generated by the Korean Eye: Moon Generation exhibition in the Saatchi gallery, Christie’s are holding an auction of contemporary photography on 1 July, in a sale which includes several Koreans who have featured on the pages of LKL.

Probably the most eminent of the photographers represented is Bae Bien-u, who had a solo show at the Bozar exhibition in Brussels earlier this year, and who a couple of years ago had a celebrity investor in the shape of Sir Elton John.

Other photographers familiar to the London art scene are the following artists:

Suh Do-ho: Some/one
Suh Do-ho: Some/one
  • Bae Chan-hyo, who exhibited at 4482 and at Purdy Hicks;
  • Debbie Han, one of the early exhibitors at I-MYU, and included in the KCC opening show, is also represented in the Saatchi exhibition.
  • Back Seung-woo who showed at Ritter / Zamet in Abandoned Protocol
  • Jung Yeondoo was at the major exhibition at Asia House, Through the Looking Glass

Before looking at the photography sale in detail, it’s worth pointing out that two other Christie’s sales on the same day feature works with Korean connections. Of these, sale 7740 (Post-war and Contemporary Art) contains a very high-profile work: Suh Do-ho’s Some/One, with a price tag estimated at £200,00-£300,000. The work appeared in the Korean pavilion in the 29th Venice Biennale – it’s a sculpture of a warrior’s armoured dress, made up of thousands of US military dog tags.

Christo - wrapped statuesAnd as another quick aside, a landmark in South Korea’s modern history was the hosting of the Olympic Games in Seoul in 1988. Very recently, Mayor Boris was in Seoul checking out the Korean Olympic legacy.

A memento commissioned for members of the International Olympic Committee in Seoul 1988, in an edition of 300, was a set of prints of a project by compulsive wrapper-artist Christo. The set, Wrapped Statues / Project for Der Glyptothek, was never issued because the publisher went bust, but the prints occasionally come up for sale – including on 1 July in Sale 5866 (Prints and Multiples).

Now for the main event, Sale 7722 (Photographs).

Here’s the little essay which goes along with the Korean content:

Pre-Lot Text
Kang Seungwan
Senior Curator
– National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul

From the late 1980s to the mid-90s, Korean contemporary photography underwent a monumental transition in the midst of political, economic and social change within Korea. Two key stimuli — the 1987 pro-democracy movement and the 1988 Seoul Olympics — further propelled Korea towards democracy and globalization. International exposure led to cultural exchange and global interest in contemporary Korean Art.

The late 1980s also marked the return of many Korean photographers who had pursued their studies abroad in the US and Europe. These photographers influenced the art scene in Korea with their conceptual and digital approach to photography. Photography’s new status as a dominant force within contemporary visual culture was supported by a series of exhibitions, notably The New Wave of Photography at the Walker Hill Art Museum, Seoul (1988) and The Horizon of Korean Photography at the Total Art Museum, Jangheungin (1991).

Bae Bien-U and Min Byung-Hun are two distinguished photographers from this early generation whose unique visions triggered the growth of Korean contemporary photography and inspired the next generations of photographers. Bae and Min explore the theme of nature and are recognised internationally for capturing the essence of the Korean spirit through their contemplative landscape photography. While Bae’s pine trees evoke the simple beauty of traditional Korean ink paintings (lot 34), the vaporous forest meticulously rendered in Min’s analogue print is a metaphor for a Korean landscape (lot 33).

In the 1990s, Korean museums and art galleries expanded their programming in photography and the number of collectors steadily grew. The new millennium saw photography in Korea continue to evolve as a major art form. While artists explored the medium’s potential for interweaving with other forms of art, digital technology changed the perception of photography from mere representation of reality to its re-creation. Lee Myungho photographs a tree separated from its surroundings by an enormous cloth backdrop. The resulting image — resembling a painting on canvas — questions the very aspect of photographic representation of reality (lot 37). The link between reality and fiction is further explored by Kim Jongku’s steel powder installation (lot 35) and Jung Yeondoo’s theatrically staged work (lot 36).

As a divided nation, Korea grappled with conflicting ideologies from militarism and nationalism to democracy and communism. Korea’s complex history informed the Korean psyche and shaped modern Korea. Over half a century after the division of Korea, this dichotomy continues to provoke artists to examine it through various outlets. Noh Suntag observes North Korea in a somewhat detached manner. His image of North Korea mirrors the still rigid perception of North Korea within South Korean society (lot 47). Revealing the estranged gaze of the viewer, Lee Jung inserts the propagandistic phrase ‘Another Country’ into a serene North Korean landscape (lot 45).

Pluralism replaced the battlefield of ideologies in the 1990s, marked by a shifting interest in a microscopic notion of the ordinary lives of individuals. Borne of rapid urbanisation and changing values, the new urban culture continued to inspire photographic expression. While the empty and lonesome face of modern society is disclosed by Kim In-Sook, who places hotel rooms under surveillance (lot 32), Yum Joongho (lot 48) and Kim Sookang (lot 46) search for meanings in the banality of everyday lives and objects. Koo Bohnchang connects his narrative of the human body to issues of repression inherent in Korean culture (lot 40).

The globalised mechanism of producing culture in one place and consuming it elsewhere has fascinated a number of Korean photographers. Lee Sanghyun appropriates elements of Chinese style landscapes from internet computer games and a 17th century Korean tale to create his work (lot 41). Commenting on today’s prevailing culture of consumerism, Kim Joon digitally tattoos the body with logos of global brands and symbols of authority (lot 44).

Identity in a multi-cultural society is yet another concern for today’s artists. While Bae Chan-Hyo cross-dresses to disguise himself as an English noblewoman (lot 43), Koh Sangwoo examines through a process of colour reversal his personal experience in the US (lot 42). As western culture flooded into Korean society — causing a culture clash of east and west, of old and new — many artists turned to photography to express their inner turmoil. Debbie Han approaches the notion of beauty and integrity through her ‘hybrid’ Venus, whose body is presented as that of a typical Korean woman (lot 39). Juxtaposing miniature foreign landmarks with Korean apartment buildings, Back Seungwoo reveals the kitsch side of Korean culture (lot 38).


(automatically generated) Read LKL’s review of this event here.

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