You started your career as a curator and then moved to the commercial world when you joined Kukje Gallery. Could you tell us a bit about the differences and similarities you observe between the two ends of the art world and about some of the challenges you felt during your transition?
Coming to the commercial sector with an academic background in art history and curatorial studies, it was difficult for me to adjust to the fast-paced, commercially driven scene at first. The interesting aspect, however, is that the academic and commercial are not two separate entities, contrary to what many might think. The two have always coexisted and overlapped in history, although the distinction may have become more prominent recently due to the soaring market price that decorates the newspaper headlines. I find it extremely rewarding to contribute to the bridge between the two sectors, as one cannot exist without the other.
One of your biggest projects at Kukje Gallery has been the Archive Room which you spent two years setting up. What spurred you to decide to set up an archive room? Could you tell us a bit about the features of the Kukje Gallery Archive Room and what you envision for the future of this room?
One of the main objectives of Kukje gallery is to provide a more objective, scholarly evidence to the works that we show. We are fortunate enough to have worked with many of the established artists well before their names have begun to be recognized in the market, so we had a privilege to access first- hand archival resources from the artist estates that were rarely shown even at the public institutions in Korea. While interacting with international curators, clients, and artists, I noticed the increasing importance of setting up an archive so that any visitors to our gallery may readily access these invaluable information. Kukje has established its current status with the support of many domestic and international network of artists, client, and curators, and we feel that it is now our responsibility to pay back as one of the biggest galleries in East Asia.
To give you a specific example, Kukje held a Dansaekhwa exhibition titled The Art of Dansaekhwa in 2014. The international spotlight it received led to a series of important exhibitions on the movement such as the collateral event at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015, and When Process Becomes Form: Dansaekhwa and Korean Abstraction at the Boghossian Foundation in Brussels, Belgium last year. This phenomenon wasn’t just limited to Dansaekhwa – the international audience wanted to learn more about Korean art in general, including post-Dansaekhwa artists, such as Kim Yong-Ik, and the subsequent generation of younger artists, such as Haegue Yang and Kimsooja. In order to present Korean art history and the trends to those who weren’t familiar with them, we felt that building an archive was a necessary next step in order to place these artists within a larger historical context, both domestic and international. Our Kwon Young-Woo exhibition for the Art Basel Hong Kong Kabinett sector this year is a great example of an archival exhibition – we exhibited catalogues, handwritten letters, and photographs from the late artist’s estate, along with a selection of beautifully colored works from the 1980s.
Our archive center officially opened last year and is home to many important, exclusive documents on our artists. But because the nature of interest in Korean art is international, our archive team and I are working on translating documents into English and digitizing materials for future offsite access. We want these important materials to be accessible to international curators, researchers, and institutions, and enhance the scholarly discourse on Korean art.
Another thing that sets our archive room apart is the design. Na Kim, a typographic artist who participated in our summer group exhibition well-known unknown last year, offered her interpretation of our space. Kim’s practice explores the sculptural aspects of design and blurs the boundary between art and design, which I think is perfect for our archive. Both her design and our archive extend beyond limits and bridge disparate fields.
Dansaekhwa is one of the most famous artistic movements to come out of Korea. It can be said that it is a movement that focuses on its materiality. Have you noticed any trends that are coming out of emerging Korean artists? Are there any artists in particular that really interest you of late?
With Korean art becoming more internationally recognized, an increasing number of artists maintain an active presence in various geographic locations, such as Haegue Yang and Kimsooja. These mid- career artists maintain their studios in Europe, New York, and Korea to keep up with their borderless presence and this borderless practice is reflected in their artworks. Although Yang and Kimsooja are Korean by birth, their works rather relate to humanity in a broad context rather than a specific identity, making their works more approachable to the international audience. This is also true for the even younger generation of Korean artists. Rather than confining themselves to “Koreanness” or a specific medium, more and more artists are exploring with diverse subjects and media.
Any views or opinions in the interview are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the company or contributors.