High-rise Korean art at NEO Bankside from Choi and Lager

2012 has been a year when Korean art has emerged from the sterile white cube of the gallery to be displayed in real-life spaces. From working offices to inhabited domestic settings, it has been a good year for seeing art in places where you can live with and enjoy it on a daily basis rather than make a special journey to admire it.

Lee Hyung-koo: Face Trace. Image courtesy House of the Nobleman
Lee Hyung-koo: Face Trace. And beyond, the towers of Canary Wharf. Image courtesy House of the Nobleman

House of the Nobleman continued this trend in the final couple of months of 2012, in a show whose launch coincided with Frieze week. Last year they tried a similar pioneering event in a mansion near Regent’s Park. This year it was London’s latest residential development for the super-rich: NEO Bankside, just behind Tate Modern, where the apartments command spectacular views over London and spectacular prices to match.

Lee Hyung-koo: Face Trace
Lee Hyung-koo: Face Trace, after its move from the bedroom into the main reception room

On the 20th floor in an empty four-bedroom apartment, Jari Lager and Sunhee Choi curated a Korean art show entitled One Must Imagine Sisyphus Happy, a quote from Camus which is meant to surmise that there is a state of mind in which even the most pointless task can be executed in some form of contentment. It was the biggest ticket Korean commercial hanging this year, with work by two of Korea’s representatives at the Venice Biennale (Lee Hyung-koo – Venice 2007 – and Lee Yong-baek – Venice 2011), plus Lee Sea-hyun – a long-time and well-known Union Gallery artist and multi-talented Baik Hyun-jhin, simultaneously holding a solo show in a domestic setting the other side of town. New to this writer at least was Choi Xoo-ang, whose work I’d like to see much more of.

Two sculptures by Choi Xoo-ang
Two sculptures by Choi Xoo-ang. Image courtesy House of the Nobleman

Happily, in the first couple of weeks of the show a number of the works found good homes, allowing for a re-hang and new work: some Shin Mee-kyoung, Kwon Soon-hak and Sung Hee-seung.

Lee Sea-hyun: Between Red
Lee Sea-hyun: Between Red. Installation view. Image courtesy House of the Nobleman

The empty space of the apartment allowed for the artwork to be placed to dramatic effect, whether offset by the London skyline by day or the blackness of the sky by night. Choi Xoo-ang’s exquisite and tranquil sculptures perhaps stole the show in the main reception room (both of them sold), and contrasted nicely with the huge and energetic square canvasses of Baik Hyun-jhin, one of which seemed to pay homage to Astro Boy, a famous Korean cartoon character. Elsewhere in the apartment Lee Yong-baek’s Angel Soldier was being shown, while in another room two of Lee Hyung-koo’s skull sculptures faced off against each other. Lee Sea-hyun too had his own room of imagined traditional landscapes in red and white.

One must Imagine Sisyphus Happy installation view
Centre foreground: soap sculpture from Shin Mee-kyoung’s Toilet Project. Left: work by Baik Hyungjhin. In distance: Lee Hyung-koo Face Trace. Right: work by Kwon Soon-hak

The rehang brought in works from Shin Mee-kyoung, probably the highest profile UK-resident Korean artist. A Roman style bust from her Toilet Project greeted you in the entrance hallway, while some of her translucent vases took the place of one of Choi Xoo-ang’s sculptures in the main reception room. Kwon Soon-hak, perhaps best known for his super high-res photographs of gallery walls and spaces, showed a new project: studies of trees in Kensington Gardens in which the same branch is photographed from multiple angles and photoshopped back onto the main trunk of the tree, giving rise to a creation which at first sight looks completely normal but which after a few moments looks either absurd or impossible. It is a nice extension to one of his first London projects, a multiple-exposure study of the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens.

Works by Shin Mee-kyoung and Baik Hyun-jhin
Shin Mee-kyoung’s translucent soap vases in front of works by Baik Hyun-jhin

The newest artist in the exhibition is Sung Hee-seung, who joined the mainstream of Korean artists exhibiting at Sasapari last year. Her fantasy paintings conjured up a riotously surreal world with multiple conflicting references and styles.

Altogether an exhilirating exhibition, both for the artwork itself and to imagine yourself living in a £6 million apartment.

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