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4 Influential Artists Who Are Continuing to Propel Korean Contemporary Art

World-renowned Korean contemporary artists, such as Choe U-Ram, Moon Kyungwon & Jeon Joonho, Haegue Yang, and Do Ho Suh, continue to propel Korean contemporary art onto the international stage and develop the South Korean art scene through various artistic activities at home and abroad.

The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA)

(30 Samcheong-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul) 

The MMCA Hyundai Motor Series: Choe U-Ram: Little Ark

September 9, 2022 – February 26, 2023

Partial exhibition view of "MMCA Hyundai Motor Series 2022: Choe U-Ram: Little Ark" at the MMCA. Courtesy of the MMCA.

Since 2014, the MMCA Hyundai Motor Series, in collaboration with Hyundai Motor Company, has organized annual exhibitions of renowned Korean artists.

Its first project started with Lee Bul (b. 1964) and has held solo exhibitions of Ahn Kyuchul (b. 1955), Kimsooja (b. 1957), Im Heung-soon (b. 1969), Choi Jeong Hwa (b. 1961), Park Chan-Kyong (b. 1965), Haegue Yang (b. 1971), and MOON Kyungwon & JEON Joonho (b. 1969). This year, the MMCA Hyundai Motor Series features artist Choe U-Ram (b. 1970).

Influenced by his grandfather, a car manufacturer, the artist Choe U-Ram creates anima-machines, which are kinetic sculptures that move slowly and repeatedly like living organisms. Choe utilizes multiple disciplines, including biology, philosophy and religion, archeology, and robotics, to create imaginative and lyric worldviews through cold metallic bodies. 

At the entrance to the exhibition is a large-scale installation that is being widely shared on social media platforms. In Round Table, headless straw dolls form a circle holding a huge round iron plate with a head rolling on it. The straw dolls try to win the head, but the taller the doll stands, the further away the heads move. And above their heads are three huge black birds circling, appearing to be watching over them.

Little Ark, the largest artwork in the exhibition, sails for twenty minutes with seventy oars made of scrap paper boxes to a peculiar machine sound. The ark symbolizes salvation, but there are two captains pointing in opposite directions, and in the center of the ship is a lighthouse that should be guiding the ark’s direction outside the ark. On the ship’s rear wall is a projection of countless doors of various types opening but never reaching the destination.

The artworks in the exhibition encourage visitors to contemplate the future of civilized society and human desire.

Artist Choe U-Ram. Courtesy of the MMCA.

Choe U-Ram has held solo exhibitions at the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (Taiwan, 2017), the Frist Art Museum (Nashville, 2010), and the Mori Museum of Art (Tokyo, 2006). His works have been featured in a number of group exhibitions, including those at the Amorepacific Museum of Art (Seoul, 2019), Singapore Art Museum (Singapore, 2016), the MMCA (Seoul, 2013), Daegu Art Museum (Daegu, 2013), and Manchester Art Gallery (Manchester, 2008). His works are in the collections of a number of renowned art institutions, such as the MMCA (Seoul), the Seoul Museum of Art (Seoul), the Leeum Museum of Art (Seoul), and the Newark Museum of Art (New Jersey).

Poster image of Moon Kyungwon & Jeon Joonho, Seoul Weather Station at Art Sonje Center, Seoul. (August 30 – November 20, 2022) © Art Sonje Center.

Artist duo Moon Kyungwon & Jeon Joonho use their artistic imagination to unfold issues surrounding the world’s rapidly changing environment at Seoul Weather Station. Humans have long viewed nature as a subject of dominance. In Seoul Weather Station, the two artists abandon a human-centered point of view to see nature from a “non-human” perspective. The duo collaborated with experts from various fields to approach the issue of abnormal weather conditions and natural disasters from various angles and present the exhibition as a temporary “weather observatory” that envisions an alternative future.

Moon Kyungwon & Jeon Joonho, 'To Build a Fire,' 2022, color video with lighting, sound and kinetic blinds connected by DMX program, duration: 15 min. Photo by CJYART STUDIO (Cho Junyong)

At the exhibition, Spot, a four-legged walking robot, guides visitors to a multimedia installation titled To Build a Fire (2022). Spot not only has vision, sound, and temperature sensors and cameras, but it also has carbon measurement devices for measuring carbon throughout the exhibition hall. The new installation work unravels the story of the world from a stone’s perspective, which is written by artificial intelligence.  

Mobile Agora: Seoul Weather Station (2022) on the third floor touches on the issue of climate change more directly. The duo brought together various experts to present design solutions that could be used in extreme climatic conditions. In the exhibition, an artificial “super lung” designed to survive apnea based on the respiratory system of birds and an urban model “I-City/We-City” that can survive sea-level rise are presented. These works are meant to provide an opportunity to contemplate the natural disaster situation.

This exhibition is part of the World Weather Network (WWN) project, launched by twenty-eight arts organizations in response to the global climate emergency.

The two artists, who have been working as a duo since 2009, have questioned the essential meaning and role of contemporary art in a rapidly changing modern society and have been examining the various contradictions and ambivalences that occur between reality and art. The duo creates exhibitions that bring together various forms of work and activities, such as videos, installations, archives, publications, and interdisciplinary research and workshops. They also collaborate with experts in various fields, such as design, science, philosophy, economics, and politics. Their representative work, NEWS FROM NOWHERE, is a project that started at the 13th Kassel documenta in 2012 and has been touring various cities, including Chicago, Zurich, Japan, and Seoul. 

Installation view of 'The Hybrid Intermediates – Flourishing Electrophorus Duo (The Sonic Intermediate – Hairy Carbonous Dweller and The Randing Intermediate – Furless Uncolored Dweller)' (2022) at the 13 th Singapore Biennale Natasha. (October 16, 2022 – March 19, 2023) Courtesy of the Singapore Biennale.

Haegyu Yang is the first Korean artist to receive the Singapore Biennale’s Benesse Prize.

Benesse Holdings, a Japanese educational company, established the Benesse Prize in 1995. The award is now given to artists participating in the Singapore Biennale in collaboration with the Singapore Art Museum.

The 13th Singapore Biennale, co-directed by Binna Choi, Nida Ghouse, Ala Younis, and June Yap, features more than 100 works by over 50 international and local artists under the exhibition title Natasha.

Haegue Yang, who was one of five nominees, won the award for The Hybrid Intermediates Flourishing Electrophorus Duo (The Sonic Intermediate Hairy Carbonous Dweller and The Randing Intermediate Furless Uncolored Dweller) (2022), created for the biennale. 

The two man-sized works have handles on their waists, colorful plastic vegetables on top of their heads, and a body made up of electrical outlets. The two pieces look alike, but one is covered with bells resembling those used in religious ceremonies, while the other is coated with rattan. By presenting a sculpture work that combines different objects, Yang discusses the situation before and after the pandemic, as well as the limits of human perception. This relates to the theme of this year’s Singapore Biennale, which focuses on re-discovering ways of seeing and relating to the world.

Haegue Yang’s works are renowned for their incorporation of personal experiences and in-depth analyses of historical, social, and cultural contexts. She transforms various stories into abstract and synesthetic experiences by incorporating sensory elements with objects such as blinds, drying racks, and bells.

Haegue Yang, Photo by Cheongjin Keem. Courtesy of the SMK.

Haegue Yang, who is based in Korea and Germany, has been presented on international stages, such as the Venice Biennale Korean Pavilion (2009) and the Kassel documents (2012). She has held solo exhibitions at a number of prominent art museums, including the Museum of Modern Art (Ontario, 2020), the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (Seoul, 2019), and the Museum of Modern Art (New York, 2019), the Center Pompidou in (Paris, 2016), and the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art (Beijing, 2015). Her works are included in the collections of major art museums such as the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, the Center Pompidou in France, and Tate Modern in England.

Buk-Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA) (1238 Dongil-ro, Nowon-gu, Seoul)

Do Ho Suh and Children: Artland

July 26, 2022 – March 12, 2023

Aami Suh, Omi Suh and Do Ho Suh, Do Ho Suh and Children: Artland, 2016- ongoing. Children’s modeling clay, Dimension variable. Photo by Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd. © Aami Suh, Omi Suh and Do Ho Suh

The Buk-Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA) presents Do Ho Suh and Children: Artland. For the past seven years, Suh and his family have been working on ArtLand, a sculpture composed of modeling clay for children. It is a miniature version of a fantasy world that has a distinct nature from our own and exists in children’s imaginations. The artist invites children to participate in building this microcosm until March 12, 2023. 

The exhibition attempts to show that children’s creativity and imagination, developed through play, can surpass that of adults. Through the children’s imaginations, ArtLand is anticipated to grow indefinitely into an unpredictable world of the imagination.

Aami Suh, Omi Suh and Do Ho Suh, "Do Ho Suh and Children: Artland, "2016- ongoing. Children’s modeling clay, Dimension variable. Photo by Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd. © Aami Suh, Omi Suh and Do Ho Suh

The South Korean-born artist Do Ho Suh (b. 1962), who currently lives and works in London, is best known for his fabric sculptures that recreate his former homes in Korea, Rhode Island, Berlin, London, and New York on different scales. Using sculpture, installation, drawing, and film, he explores the concept and memory of home, the relationship between architecture and the body, and cultural displacement. His works are in the collections of numerous museums around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Walker Art Center, Tate Modern, the Leeum Museum of Art, and the Mori Art Museum.

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