이불 Lee Bul
배영환 Bae Young-whan
우정수 Jeongsu Woo
김희천 Heecheon Kim
이진한 Jin Han Lee
Magnetic Fields marks the launch of the fall season at BB&M with a showcase of new works by contemporary Korean artists represented by the gallery. Headlined by Lee Bul, widely recognized as the leading Korean artist of her generation, the exhibition also presents long-awaited new work by Bae Young-whan, a key figure identified with the influential, albeit loosely defined, post-minjung movement, which melds neo-conceptual strategies to a social consciousness informed by Korea’s turbulent modernity. The show also features a selection of new paintings and works on paper by Jeongsu Woo, among the most closely watched young Korean painters working today, ahead of his solo exhibition scheduled for later this fall at BB&M. Jin Han Lee, another painter who has garnered considerable acclaim early in her career (inclusion in Bloomberg New Contemporaries and Saatchi New Sensations), will also unveil new works. Rounding out the show is an immersive VR installation by Heecheon Kim, a young artist fast rising in international prominence with multimedia works that engage with various post-Internet cultural phenomena against the background of a technologically charged Korean society.
Sympathetic connections as well as productive tensions run through Magnetic Fields. Lee Bul, the eldest of the artists here, has developed a distinguished oeuvre over several decades with works that explore the experiential and ideological dimensions of the posthuman body. The Perdu series of wall works on view, while sensuously painterly, elaborates on motifs from her early biomorphic sculptures, the fusion of mechanical and organic forms that delve into questions surrounding the body in a culture increasingly permeated by technology.
Heecheon Kim, the youngest in the show, born around the the dawn of the Internet, takes up related issues in multimedia works examining both the pleasures and anxieties of a techno-utopian society which promises to loosen the self from corporeal bounds. In Ghost (1990), a VR work based on an actual incident involving an acquaintance paralyzed in a weightlifting accident, the artist probes the untranslatable gaps between reality and pseudo- and parallel realities, generating moments of unexpected emotional resonance.
VR technologies have also played a role in the work of Jin Han Lee, though as a means to reconsider timeless questions of representational space in the traditional medium of painting. Having long worked between London and Seoul, she has developed an intimate pictorial language—by turns sensuous, exuberant, and poignant—that attempts to convey the fragmented, ineffable moments in the spatial and linguistic interstices of her personal experience.
A preoccupation with language, especially the collective vernacular of pop songs, also figures prominently in Bae Young-whan’s art. In earlier works speaking to a peculiarly Korean brand of self-destructive, self-romanticizing masculinity, he used shattered liquor bottles to form sentimental Korean song lyrics on discarded plywood collected from building sites. For this show, he’s taken the more universally familiar notes of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” and put them through a geometric reformulation, rendering them icily abstract, a visual correlative to the song’s theme of eternal existential drift.
Jeongsu Woo’s paintings freely deploy a similar method, sampling and remixing elements high and low to compose a palimpsest of references and signifiers that elide temporal and cultural parameters. As suggested by the title of one of his catalogues, Flâneur Notes, his canvases convey the sensibilities of an urbane, witty observer, a visual account of what it means to be a young painter in the metropolitan East in the early 21st century. Alternating between homage, appropriation, and subversion, his work is nevertheless an acknowledgment of the enduring craft of painting, characterized as it is by a sensitive attention to palette, gestures and strokes of the brush, and pictorial composition.
Working in a range of mediums, from painting and sculpture to multimedia installation, and at varying stages in their careers, the five artists gathered here constitute a dynamic, forward-looking cohort, their practices exemplifying some of the most vital recent developments in Korean art.