No matter how prepared you think you are when you go to an art fair, you’ll always be caught unawares by a gallery who is showing an artist you weren’t expecting, or by a new side to an artist you thought you knew.
In the most unlikely corner of the hall you can come across something unexpected. For me, as I scoured the periphery of the venue in the last half hour before closing time, trying to find a cafe that could be bothered to make me a cup of coffee, I came across a row of boldly-coloured, thickly layered oil portraits which would only be visible to customers of the Crussh juice bar. They were by Shin Kwangho, spotted by Saatchi Online as “One to Watch” a while ago, and now picked up by Unix Gallery from New York.
Another gallery, about as far as you could get from the main entrance, had a set of three giant pine-tree photographs by the unmistakable Bae Bien-u. They drew you into the gallery space and so dominated it that I completely missed the works by Lee Bae, a monochrome artist born in 1956 and now living in Paris. I had to visit the gallery website, Gallery RX, to see what I had missed.
A Taiwanese gallery is not necessarily where you expect to find works by a Korean artist, but when you see a pair of works created out of tightly packed sticks of compacted hanji paper you immediately expect a Korean is responsible, and surely enough Da Xiang Art Space had included Seo Jeong-min among their collection of Chinese artists.
The work attracted the eye because the style was similar to that of an artist that was included in a group show at the Mall Galleries in 2010: Seo Jeong-hak. In fact, the style was similar because the artist was one and the same, though confusingly he changed his name to Seo Jeong-min in 2011.
While on the subject of Korean artists working in hanji, there were two galleries showing work by Chun Kwang-young: Skipwiths had some of his latest work, including a bang up-to-date bleached-white example from his Aggregation series, while the Omer Tiroche had an early example from the 1990s. It was interesting to see how Chun’s technique has evolved over time, the more recent examples of his work packing the little paper packets much more tightly together.
Skipwiths can be relied upon to present a good mix of established and emerging artists – their current emerging name is Park Hyojin with her stunning series of pigment prints of her sculptural works.
But the gallery also has a habit of embarrassing you by presenting established artists whom you haven’t come across before, but to compensate they are very helpful in educating you about their background and CV. I’m grateful to them for introducing me to the work of Toh Yun-hee, whose work has been collected by National Museum of Contemporary Art, and Lee Kang-so (b 1943) who as an avant garde artist in the 1970s presented a live rooster at the 9th Paris Biennale.
By visiting Skipwiths you get your knowledge and understanding enhanced. On the other hand, going to a gallery – such as Gallery H.A.N – where there is so much that is new and unfamiliar, without a guide to walk you through it all, can be a slightly perturbing experience, through no fault of the gallery.
Gallery H.A.N’s battle-scarred books by Yang Kyeongsig contrasted with the more restful water studies by Kong Sunghwan and white paintings of ceramics by Yang Sunghoon.
Paju’s Gallery SoSo, who two years running brought us work by Park Ki-won, rang the changes this year by bringing Kim In-kyum, whose minimalist ink on paper paintings had a curiously architectural quality, and whose meditative nature contrasted sharply with the work of Hong Ji-yoon at Hong Kong’s Gallery Koo.
Hong’s colourful works capture the spirit of Korean folk art but also combine elements of literati art by incorporating some of her own poems into the composition.
At Albemarle Gallery you know what to expect: the always-tempting wooden sculptural works of Lee Jae-hyo and the playfully voyeuristic lenticulars of Bae Joonsung. Both highly desirable but somewhat out of the price bracket. Slightly more affordable are the works at Shine Artists. The Korean star of their show was photographer Lee Jeonglok.
As short video playing on a computer on the Shine Artists desk showed Lee’s technique: using a high-density filter to create an ultra-long exposure time, Lee illuminates a butterfly shape with a single strobe flash. The resulting image (the above was created during a residency in Shanghai) feels like a landscape has been sprinkled with fairy-dust. (You can see the work at the Albemarle Gallery until 8 June).
Christine Park Gallery was showing work by experimental film-maker Lee Hang-jun. Lee’s Nebula Rising is a multi-faceted work in which 16mm film stock has been treated with colourful chemicals which will develop over time. Periodically some of the frames are printed in acrylic, thus recording a point in time of the film’s changing state; and the movie is projected as a random sequence of colours and shapes. In the installation at Art15, one roll of film had been wound round a wooden frame like a water wheel. It was a shame that the related screening / performance at Cafe Oto a couple of days previously had not been better advertised as it would have been interesting to see a further aspect to this intriguing artist.
Once again Hanmi Gallery presented a stimulating collection, this time featuring the work of Kim Sangjin: a kinetic and sound installation entitled Meditation. Placed carefully on three cushions on which you might kneel in a Buddhist temple were three mechanical contraptions designed to strike a moktak with a wooden hammer. According to the gallery’s press release: “Kim’s work uses language, sound and time as a means of re-appropriating the act of meditation to reveal the infinite process of cognition.”
Art 15 was at Olympia, 21-23 May. Thanks to Kang Hyeran for the supplemental information about the name change of the artist Seo Jeong-min