Arario Gallery was established in 1989 in Cheonan and opened its first Seoul outpost in April 2006 after renovating an old building located in Sogyeok-dong. The Seoul branch moved to Samcheong-dong in 2014 and ran for approximately eight years before moving to a larger venue.
Due to its project of renovating an existing office building right next to Arario’s museum building, the Seoul branch temporarily operated on the underground floor of the Arario Museum in Space. On February 1, 2023, after a year-long wait, Arario Gallery Seoul finally opened its new six-story building with one basement floor.
To commemorate the reopening of Arario Gallery Seoul in the new building, the gallery is holding an exhibition entitled Romantic Irony featuring the works of five artists: Gwon Osang (b. 1974), Lee Dongwook (b. 1976), Kim Inbai (b. 1978), Ahn Jisan (b. 1979), and Noh Sangho (b. 1986), all represented by the gallery.
Arario Gallery played a significant role in developing the Korean art market ecosystem by adapting the gallery representation system, which had hardly existed in South Korea until 2005. The gallery attempted to expand the mode of operating the gallery by making agreements with selected artists, managing and promoting their activities, and offering exceptional support, thus redefining the role of an art gallery in Korea.
Showcasing the works of the five representing artists for this reopening exhibition may reflect the gallery‘s anticipation of a new start at the new location while looking back at Arario Gallery’s important achievements.
Artists Gwon Osang and Lee Dongwook joined the gallery in 2005 when the gallery first began representing artists, and Kim Inbai joined shortly after. Ahn Jisan and Noh Sangho have also been working with the gallery, holding various exhibitions.
The Korean art market in the late 2000s saw rapid growth, with various alternative spaces opening and increased government funding for the arts. Gwon, Lee, Kim, and Ahn were some of the artists who had impressive achievements as the Korean contemporary art world made remarkable progress in the 2000s. On the other hand, artist Noh Sangho began his career when various Sinsaeng Gonggan (post-alternative spaces) emerged after the 2010s.
The reopening exhibition of Arario Gallery Seoul draws on the concept of “romantic irony” by Friedrich von Schlegel (1772–1829) to introduce the works of these five artists. The term is a rhetorical device used in art forms, especially literature, which acknowledges the conflict that arises in the process of continuously fluctuating between self-creation and self-destruction. For Schlegel, this fluctuation provides an opportunity for infinite possibilities that reach beyond expected turns.
Borrowing Schlegel’s thoughts, the exhibition sheds light on the works of the five participating artists that go beyond endless self-reflection toward creativity.
Gwon Osang (b. 1974) is an artist who attempts to expand the concept of sculpture with flat images such as photography and is continuously experimenting with sculpture. He is particularly known for his photography-sculpture works, collaging hundreds of printed photos to create sculptures of humans, animals, and objects.
Seven works are presented on the gallery’s fifth floor in this exhibition. Gwon collects hundreds or thousands of images of an object and puts these images together to create three-dimensional works. This process inevitably creates distorted segments, allowing the artist to experiment with form and the space that the sculpture implies.
In this exhibition, Gwon draws inspiration from the 20th-century modern master sculptors, paying homage to Henry Moore (1898–1986) and Constantin Brancusi (1876–1957). He explores organic and abstract forms of the human body and different objects, exploring, studying, and mimicking the masters’ sculptures to add new perspectives and artistic language to his own works.
Eight new works by artist Lee Dongwook (b. 1976) are presented on the gallery’s third floor. Lee is known for creating 15-cm-tall nude figure miniatures that represent himself. Through these small characters, he injects his personal interest and reflects the reality of the present society, providing insight into the human beings living in the contemporary era.
The artist has recently been interested in various artificial spaces, such as architectural and geometrical structures, to express his thoughts on humans. In this exhibition, Lee has combined two very different materials: pink materials reminiscent of human skin and aluminum with a cold, metallic character.
In the works where the two materials coexist, the miniature figures seem as if they have been merged with an aluminum honeycomb panel, while the slide-shaped structure in the center of the gallery space is made of both aluminum plates and flesh-like materials. Lee’s works depict the tension between artificial structures, nature, and warm yet cold humans, reflecting the artist’s insight into human society.
Artist Kim Inbai (b. 1978) raises questions about existing social perceptions and prejudice through his works. The artist creates deformed human figures to break existing concepts or create contradictory situations through immobile kinetic work, giving new perspectives to our stereotypes and providing a unique sensory experience.
Kim’s exhibition, located on the first floor of the gallery, begins with the phrase “Before your very eyes” in English and “three patches of fog” in Korean at the entrance. All four works presented in this exhibition deal with the theme of “contact,” which is ironic since the exhibited works actually show inaccessibility in many ways.
For example, fog in the phrase is unquantifiable, and the artwork Fog (2023), which is a 5.6-meter-tall plywood stack forming a map of Paju, is too tall to read. Metamorphosis (2023), a work of two propellers made of regular and irregular shapes, is fixed and does not move. The blackboard and chalk are made of opposite materials, while the work Mirror leaning against the wall was created in a structure where the front and back and the outside and inside face each other. These works disturb our understanding of contact and provide an opportunity to think about relationships that can both be together but cannot be together.
Artist Ahn Jisan (b. 1979) depicts anxiety by setting certain situations in his paintings. Recently, he has been focusing on the situation of storms to express the anxiety and ominous feelings that arise when foreseeing an approaching storm or going through one.
In his last solo exhibition, the artist exhibited paintings of rainstorms on rocky mountains. In this exhibition, he painted hunting scenes in a snowstorm. The act of hunting and gathering is one of the most natural activities, but it is also a situation where tension and fear arise. Snowstorms are also natural, but they also bring extreme situations. By combining the two situations in his paintings, the artist attempts to maximize the contradictory moments we face in life.
Ahn speaks of deep anxiety and tension by expressing the sublime beauty of vast, uncontrollable nature; the figures standing against a blizzard to survive; and the cyclical relationship in which humans and nature inevitably collide.
On the gallery’s fourth floor, a group of Noh Sangho’s (b. 1986) new paintings, the Holy series, is on display. The artist creates paintings by editing images collected from the digital world, such as the internet and social media, to infuse his own stories or recombine the images into new compositions.
In this exhibition, the artist reflects on the images produced and consumed today differently from his previous works. He has mixed images from the real physical world and the digital world in each painting.
Noh recognizes the fact that images from both worlds all originate from the physical world. So do the people who consume these images. But the artist shows how images from each side are consumed in very different directions.
To express these differences, Noh applies various techniques in his paintings. Although he uses 3D images to compose his paintings and uses an AI image generator, Noh expresses these images in one of the most traditional art forms, painting. He uses an airbrush to create the smooth surface of digital devices and uses special pigments or gypsum to give a sense of thickness to the canvas, sharply contrasting the characteristics of classical painting and digital screens.