Lee Bul’s first UK solo show, at Ikon Gallery

This exhibition should be well worth a day trip to Birmingham. But if you can’t make it, there’s a specially commissioned installation at the KCC in London running alongside the exhibition.

Lee Bul

10 September — 9 November 2014
Ikon Gallery | 1 Oozells Square | Brindleyplace | Birmingham | B1 2HS | ikon-gallery.org
Tuesday – Sunday, 11am-6pm. Closed Mondays except Bank Holidays

Lee Bul. Via Negativa (interior detail) (2012)
Lee Bul. Via Negativa (interior detail) (2012). Photograph by Jeon Byung-cheol. Courtesy Studio Lee Bul, Seoul.

Ikon presents the first UK solo show of works by Korean artist Lee Bul. This survey of early drawings, studies, sculptural pieces and ambitious installations – including a new commission made especially for Ikon – showcases the visually compelling and intellectually sharp works which have established Lee Bul as one of the most important artists of her generation.

Born in 1964, under the military dictatorship of South Korea, Lee Bul graduated in sculpture from Hongik University during the late 1980s. Her works became preoccupied with politics, delving into the many forms of idealism that permeate our civilisations, and from the beginning she created works that crossed genres and disciplines in provocative ways. Early street performance-based pieces saw Lee Bul wearing full-body soft sculptures which were both alluring and grotesque. Her later female Cyborg sculptures of the 1990s drew upon art history, critical theory, science fiction and popular imagination to explore anxieties arising out of dysfunctional technological advances, whilst simultaneously harking back to icons of classical sculpture.

Lee Bul’s more recent works have similarly dual concerns; at once forward-looking yet retrospective, seductive but suggestive of ruin. Sculptures suspended like chandeliers, elaborate assemblages that glimmer with crystal beads, chains and mirrors, poignantly evoke castles in the air. The sculptures reflect utopian architectural schemes of the early twentieth century as well as images of totalitarianism from Lee Bul’s early experiences of military Korea.

Perhaps the most explicit of these works is Mon grand récit: Weep into stones… (2005), with its mountainous topography reminiscent of skyscrapers described by Hugh Ferriss in his book The Metropolis of Tomorrow (1929). A nearby transmission tower broadcasts a flashing LED message from Thomas Browne’s Hydriotaphia (1658): “weep into stones / fables like snow / our few evil days.” Scaffolding supports several scale model structures: a looping highway made of bent plywood, a tiny Tatlin’s Monument, a modernist staircase that features in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, and an upturned cross-section of the Hagia Sofia.

Alongside these seminal works a new commission, made possible through the Art Fund International scheme in collaboration with Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and New Art Gallery Walsall, will be unveiled at Ikon. After Bruno Taut (Devotion to Drift) will make explicit reference to the architect Bruno Taut (1880 –1938), a great influence on Lee Bul’s works. The suspended sculpture, dripping with an excess of crystalline shapes and glass beads, will reference the exponential growth and unsustainability of the modern world. Contrary to Taut’s early 20th century optimism, Lee Bul conjures up beautiful dreams that she knows won’t come true, exploring what she sees as the failings of utopian optimism.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a major publication, produced in collaboration with Artsonje Center, Seoul; MUDAM – Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg; EACC, Castellon; and Korean Cultural Centre UK. This exhibition is organised in collaboration with the Korean Cultural Centre UK, EACC Castellón and Musée d’art moderne et contemporain Saint-Étienne Métropole and supported by the Korea Foundation, Lehmann Maupin, Galerie Thaddeaus Ropac and PKM Gallery.

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

2 thoughts on “Lee Bul’s first UK solo show, at Ikon Gallery

  1. This is a great exhibition because it goes beyond the traditional Southeast region; South Koreans do generally draw upon different types of knowledge for their work.

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