Translated by: Bada Song, Chung Yeon-shim, Park Eun-ah, Park Sung-ji, Paul O'Kane
Publisher: Presses du Réel, 2018.
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This book, the first major publication in English devoted to the Korean critic and art historian Lee Yil, is a collection of texts on aesthetics, theory and history of art by the main observer of “Dansaekhwa”, or Korean monochrome. It also brings together essays and monographic prefaces that gave wide coverage to artists who had been active from the end of the Korean war up until the mid-1990s.
Lee Yil is not a household name among art critics, but his impact on art criticism is undeniable, not just in his native South Korea, but also internationally. He was highly versed in the lingua franca of 20th-century art criticism, and used it with the intellectual rigor of a scholar, as well as the elegance of a writer in his prolific work, some of which was written in French, although most is in his native language, Korean. Generations of Korean artists, art historians, and other art professionals greatly benefited from his deep knowledge of modern and contemporary art in their work. Now, due to this publication, Lee Yil’s writings are available to the audience abroad as well.
“Art as a ‘transcription of anonymity’ is, in itself, pure art. Art is reduced to its most fundamental self, and yet, at the same time expands into a condition of life before art was ‘art’. What lies in between such ‘expansion and reduction’ is neither history nor a dialectic, but there is nevertheless a dynamics of the total and true meaning of existence, as true creation lies in awakening to awareness of existence”—as Lee Yil wrote in “Dynamics of Expansion and Reduction” (1970), which opens the selection of his writings in this book. He writes about artistic practices, but the same could be stated about his own art critical output, which gives a powerful voice to “pure art” and its impact on our lives and thoughts.
AICA’s series, “Art Critics of the World”, aims to offer the widest possible readership texts by original critics who best represent their countries, and who are not yet as internationally famous as they should be.
Lee Yil (1932-1997), born in Gangseo, Pyeongannum-do (now part of North Korea), is one of the most influential postwar art critics in Korea. Until his death in 1997, he taught art history and art criticism at Hongik University and worked actively as an art critic. His significant essays range from his writings on the Paris Biennale, in which Korean artists participated, to numerous essays and monographs on Korean abstract and experimental artists. In particular, Lee wrote on Dansaekhwa artists such as Park Seo-bo, Ha Chong-hyun, Chung Sang-hwa, Chung Chang-sup, Yun Hyong-keun, Kim Tschang-yeul, Lee Kang-so, Kwon Youngwoo, Suh Seung-won, and Choi Myung-young.
The publication of these incisive, informative and sometimes disarmingly honest essays by one of Korea's leading art critics is to be warmly welcomed. Moreover, the translators have done a staggeringly good job of producing prose that is more intelligible than a lot of art criticism that is written in English by native English speakers.
Read our review of this book here.
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