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2013 Korean Collective at Albemarle Gallery

The Albemarle Gallery continues its tradition of annual group shows by Korean artists. Nice to see some new and interesting names amongst the more established artists this year.

Korean Collective 2013

5 September – 5 October 2013
Albemarle Gallery | 49 Albemarle Street | London W1S 4JR | Tel : 0207 499 1616 |
Opening hours: Monday-Friday 10-6 Saturday 10-4

Korean Collective 2013

Featuring works by:

Bae Joonsung | Do Min | Hong Sungchul | Hwang Seon Tae | Im Chang Wook | Kim Yongjin | Mari Kim | Lee Jaehyo

Beneath the surface a glimmer of hope

Essay by Dr. Iain Robertson, Head of Art Business Sotheby’s Institute of Art

The razor-sharp pictures that are reproduced on Samsung’s latest high-definition generation of television monitors produce Technicolor. A colour so pigment enriched as to defy reality. The new screens are the logical extension of a central aim of Pop Art; to assert not the integrity of the picture plane, but to state categorically that nothing lies behind the flat-image. This has been taken to its painterly conclusion in the Super-flat art of the Japanese artist, Takashi Murakami. The broader concerns of all the artists in this exhibition are the impact of digital technology on our lives and the appropriation of the flat image.

Mari Kim’s Nara-like depiction of porcelaneous dolls pays lip-service to Japanese Manga and Anime culture. Each manikin quite literally has stars in its eyes, transfixed by a material culture that afflicts the young and impressionable of East Asia perhaps more than any group on the continent. The dolls either hold or wear their latest trophy or else masquerade as instantly recognisable Western cultural and political icons; such as Vermeer’s ‘Woman with a pearl earring’ or Margaret Thatcher. Both subjects, it can be argued, were popularised by other media: book, film and television and this highlights this artist’s concern and those of all the artist in the show, with the digital reception of images in the twenty-first century.

The appropriation of imagery from nineteenth century Academic Western oil painting by Bae Joonsung, adds another layer of cultural displacement to that revealed to us in Mari Kim’s dolls. Bae has extended his genre to focus on elaborate interiors and archaeological sites while continuing to suggest that beneath the surface appearance lies a deep-seated cultural insecurity.

Iconography in the digital age can be drawn from a wide range of sources. Kim Yongjin, counter-balancing Bae Joonsung’s reliance on Western cultural devices, looks at timeless Korean ceramic forms such as the tea-pot and maebyeong (in Chinese Meiping) celadon vase of the Goryeo dynasty. Decoration of the vessels is picked out in coiled wire and in a colour that mirrors the distinctive iron-ground under-glazes of Buncheong ware.

The visualisation of imagery through a technological prism is at the core of Hong Sungchul’s work. The artist’s grid of elastic strings stained with colour to form intimate depictions of the human form once again addresses the secondhand reception of reality in a technology-obsessed world.

Similarly, the nail-encrusted anthropomorphic shapes created by the sculptor Lee Jaehyo have a digital rhythm, which derives from the ordering of the polished spikes into patterns that mirror water eddies.

Im Chang Wook’s oil paintings of rural life are painted in a thick impasto, and in a manner that defies the medium of paint. The works take on a metallic quality, so thick and lustrous are the folds of colour. The sense is of dripping mercury, or the refection of life through undulating metal tubes. The relationship to the distortion or manipulation of the real world, implicit in Hong Sungchul’s fibre strings and Kim Yongjin’s hyper-real ponds, is apparent.

Do Min’s photo-realist oils record the splash as a falling die hits the water. The title of the series, ‘Enjoy the Moment’, is a corruption of Horace’s wise phrase, Carpe Diem (seize the day). Do Min’s re-interpretation of the concept changes its meaning into something less substantial and blatantly epicurean. With the role of the die and trusting to luck we might have our fun, because tomorrow may never come. The nihilistic fatalism that attaches itself to a society led by the need to consume is yet another man-made snare.

The deracinated interiors of Hwang Seon Tae, bring to mind Edward Hopper’s moments of suspended time and provide a fitting finale to the exhibition, because they offer a glimmer of hope. The Korean conceptualist, Suh Do-ho, once precisely recreated his apartment in New York and his flat in Seoul in nylon and silk drapes respectively, and left a similar sense of longing to that left by Hwang’s still impressions. Longing rather than loss; for these interiors are, alone amongst the work in this exhibition, quiet contemplative spaces. A place that offers the opportunity to breath freely and face life on one’s own terms. Hwang shows us that we do not need to join the herd of consumers or let consumerism invade every aspect of our life.

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