The run-up to the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics meant that many people around the world looked forward to the biggest sports event of the year. Those who visited Korea and attended the event would have noticed that the organizers prepared a wide variety of events to promote the country's traditional culture and contemporary art.
Since the late 1980s, Korea has witnessed a surge in the evolution of its contemporary art scene. Many Asian art biennales were being launched, bringing exposure to Korea's already riveting arts environment. Art itself began earning its right in society, as the government began integrating public artworks into events that may not necessarily be art-related, as seen at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Today, not only are public art initiative plenty, but South Korea is also home to art fairs such as KIAF and Art Busan, along with fringe events that are aimed to boost the arts as a whole.
Here are these ten artists making the headlines in the world of contemporary Korean sculpture:
Kim Yong Won's sculpture at Dongdaemun History and Culture Park. Photo courtesy of Theforeignarchitect.
If you have been to Seoul you would have seen Kim Yong Won’s work even if you do not per se know his name. His sculptures can be seen at key places in the city including the top tourist destination Dongdaemun History and Culture Park. His “Shadow of a Shadow” represents a naked female body with certain parts missing or dissected pointing to reality as an absence of void. The artist suggests that even when a person is missing his or her presence still lingers. For Kim, a shadow is a reflection of the individual’s scent and emotional space. Physical emptiness and emotional construction and reconstruction are recurring themes in his work.
"Greetingman" by Yoo Young-ho
Yoo Young-ho is another artist whose works inhabit Seoul’s public space. His “Greetingman Project” features a tall man bowing to greet the viewer as a symbol of friendship, dialogue, and world peace. Not surprisingly his works have thus been installed at the DMZ, in Ecuador, Panama, and Peru and were featured in the “Avengers” franchise.
"Alchetron" by U-Ram Choe
It was at the 2006 Shanghai Biennale when U-Ram Choe’s kinetic art first garnered international attention. In his moving sculptures, he uses fine mechanics and dimmed light to instill in his objects the feeling of an unusual presence. Often referred to as “the engineer-artist” he unites science and art to challenge established perceptions about sculpture.
"Eve (170225)" by Lee Yunhee
Lee Yunhee’s ceramic sculptures bridge two very different domains - those of Buddhist ritual painting and Medieval European literature. Lee cites Dante’s “Divine Comedy” as the key inspiration to her work. Her sculptures often feature a few plates each of which depicts a scene of a narrative written by the artist. Her main character is a girl on a journey to escape anxiety, suppress desire and find peace. The choice of material serves to intensify the mystery running through her pieces.
"Moving Flower" by Choi Jung Hwa
Choi Jeong Hwa ensembles colorful everyday objects into kitschy and messy sculptures and installations to question the notion of art. His pop-art works aim to embody the abundance of mass production and the untidy nature of consumerism. By using cheap consumer goods such as plastic to address deeply philosophical Buddhist themes his “Moving Flower” reflects the blurring line between high and low culture which has come to represent the 21st century.
"The Sculptures" by Osang Kwon
Osang Gwon uses magazine cut-outs or low-quality, pixelated photos from the internet which he later glues to statues of humans made of plastic. By doing so he questions the nature of sculpture as something that can look real but is not. He gains inspiration from mystery novels, astrology, folk legends, the philosophy of yin-yang and the five elements. His most famous series “Deodorant type” and “The Sculpture” have been exhibited in Europe and China.
"Translated Vases" by Yee Sookyung
Yee Sookyung’s body of work ranges from sculpture, installation, video, painting, drawing to performance. Through her sculptures made of broken and reassembled porcelain remnants, she aims to recreate Eastern legends and folk characters. As a result, critics often describe Yee’s art as a “reinterpretation of tradition”, a phrase she disagrees with. For her, the medium of choice and the subject of her works signal the healing powers of tradition and art. “Translated vases” is her most famous series.
Vases by Kang Junyoung
Kang Junyoung employs sculpture for the purpose of auto-portrait. He aims to write his personal autobiography not by means of text or painting but through the plastic arts. In recent years he has been collaborating with various fashion magazines and expanding his practice in Europe.
Kim Kyong Min is another artist whose sculptures are an intrinsic part of Seoul’s cityscape but there is more to them than just their prominence. In her art, Ms. Kim has embarked on a mission to employ sculpture as a vehicle for narration and storytelling. Titled “Wonderful Day” her most famous series explore the little joys of life otherwise boring and uneventful. By showing her distinctive characters performing their daily activities Ms. Kim invites the viewer to celebrate the desire to be happy. The contagious feel-good mood of her works has spread to Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China and Japan where her works have been installed in public places.
"AJUSSI" by Park Jin Sung
The message of Park Jin Sung’s most famous”AJUSSI” series is contrary or maybe complementary to Kim Kyong Min’s “Wonderful Day”. If “Wonderful Day” looks for joy in the routine, “AJUSSI” suggests acceptance of life’s ups and downs. Rather than looking for the positive in everything, Park’s sometimes sad sometimes happy character finds peace in the reconciliation with the cyclic order of events.
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