Korean footnotes from Venice Biennale 2011

In previous biennales, Korean artists have had prominent solo exhibitions as collateral events to the main exhibition in the Giardini. We’ve had Atta Kim, Lee Ufan, and Chun Woo-jung in previous years, as well as participations in group shows. In 2011 I failed to find any Korean solo events.

There were, however, three high profile group shows with Korean participation which gave visitors an excuse to explore the back streets of Venice and get inside a palace or two, maybe an old abbey, and a disused glass factory in Murano. The latter venue hosted one half of the two-part Glasstress exhibition, and included a video work by Lee Hye Rim entitled Strawberry Garden. Sadly, on the day that I visited the large video screen set aside for the work in a room near the reception area was blank, without a satisfactory explanation. This was a shame as judging from the image in the catalogue her work would have provided a striking contrast to the more conventional glass work on display:

Hye Rim Lee: Strawberry Garden
Lee Hye Rim: still from Strawberry Garden (2011)

Lee was born in Korea, and spends her time between New Zealand and New York. Another participant in Glasstress was Korean American Michael Joo (born in Ithaca, NY). His work was in the rather grand Palazzo Covalli Franchetti next to the Ponte dell’Accademia, which was the venue for the other half of the exhibition. Entitled Expanded Access, the work recreated in shining glass the velvet ropes on metal poles which demarcate the queues outside night clubs, policed by burly bouncers. Joo’s version would have the bouncers confused, as they have managed to get in a bit of a tangle:

Michael Joo: Expanded Access (2011)
Michael Joo: Expanded Access (2011)

Also at the Palazzo Covalli Franchetti was a work by Zaha Hadid, whose Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul is nearing completion this year. Her Seoul Desk, sleek, black, streamlined, looked more like a stealth fighter than a piece of office furniture. It was almost impossible to capture in a photograph, and you instead felt drawn to feel its fluid angles – if only you were allowed to touch it.

Zaha Hadid: Seoul Desk
Zaha Hadid: Seoul Desk

Another dual-venue exhibition was Future Pass, a huge collection of works from predominantly Asian artists, displayed in l’Abbazia di San Gregorio in the Dorsoduro and in the Palazzo Mangilli-Valmarana in the Cannaregio district. Korean-born artists included SEO, Eddie Kang, Lee Sea-hyun, Kwon Kisoo, Lee Dongi, Song Dong-hyun, Choi Sang-ah and Lee Hye Rim. A very diverse collection, but the predominant feeling was of rather too much Chinese pop art. Fortunately there was always something to look at and enjoy, including of course the building itself which offered splendid views of the Grand Canal.

The quiet cloisters of the Abazzia di San Gregorio, with some of the quieter works
The quiet cloisters of the Abazzia di San Gregorio, with some of the quieter works from Future Pass

In the magnificent Palazzo Grassi, a converted customs house, was another group show of works from the François Pinault collection entitled The World Belongs to You. The inner courtyard was dominated by a giant rag doll, beside which a Jeff Koons shiny poodle looked distinctly undersized. Another show of great variety, at the very end of which you could heave a sigh of relief and sit to contemplate an iteration from Lee Ufan’s Dialogue series: twelve calm grey squares arranged over three white walls. While not having the impact of the final room in his Guggenheim show (the lights were not well-enough focused on the individual panels), this work nonetheless was a welcome space of spirituality at the end of this stimulating collection.

Lee Ufan: Dialogue (2010)
Lee Ufan: Dialogue (2010) at the Palazzo Grassi

As a footnote to the footnote, Gimhongsok participated in a group show by Xijing Men in St Mark’s Square Gallery, but this exhibition finished at the end of September, before LKL’s normal late-October visit.

Exhibition home pages:

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