Insufficient as it may be, the Korean art world is gradually recognizing more and more women.
The Leeum Museum of Art’s ARTSPECTRUM, an artist award and exhibition program that resumed after six years, went to Cha Jaemin, and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) selected artist Chan Suk Choi as this year’s Korean Artist Prize winner.
Many of the nation’s most prestigious art institutions are also led by women. Examples include Baek Ji-sook, director of the Seoul Museum of Art, Ki Hye-kyung, director of the Busan Museum of Art; Seong Eun Kim, director of the Nam June Paik Art Center (NJPAC); Ahn Mi-hee, director of the Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art; Seunghye Sun, director of the Daejeon Museum of Art; and Choi Eun-joo, director of the Daegu Art Museum.
Biennales are also directed by women. The Busan Biennale will be held in the second half of this year under the direction of Haeju Kim, and the Gwangju Biennale will be curated by Sook Kyung Lee and inaugurated the following year.
Additionally, galleries are exhibiting the works and artistic practices of numerous Korean and international female artists. For example, Gladstone Gallery in Seoul is currently presenting Korean-American artist Anicka Yi, the artist’s first solo exhibition in Korea until July 8, 2022.
Recent exhibitions at galleries in Seoul are also highlighting the artistic practices of Korean female artists. Pace Seoul is exhibiting the work of four female artists from different generations, while Space Willing N Dealing presents the work of five emerging female artists who have experienced pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood.
From June 17 to July 30, Pace Gallery is featuring Your Present, a collection of new works by Korean female artists, in a new ground-floor exhibition space equipped for immersive and experiential artworks. The artists in the exhibition use both physical and virtual mediums to tell tales about the current state of the world and its relationship to the present.
In her works, Ji Hye Yeom (b. 1982) reflects on the impact of societal events, such as colonialism, capitalism, exploitation of natural resources, and viruses, that have had a profound effect on the present. In her video work Symbioplot (2020), Yeom imagines the ability of all living things on earth to coexist by depicting plants and the sky.
Heemin Chung (b. 1987) explores the expanding nature of digital images and the manner in which they are experienced to suggest new painting possibilities. Two of Chung’s works in the exhibition incorporate acrylic, gel, and surgical steel chain on canvas. This is to further establish a parallel between traditional paintings and digital media by experimenting with the forms and materials employed in each.
After immigrating from Korea to the United States in 1997, Sang-ah Choi (b. 1971) expresses her feelings regarding exposure to an alien environment, as well as identity issues. In drawings that incorporate Korean and American popular culture, Greek mythology, and Korean historical painting, specifically Sip-Jang Saeng Do, the artist attempts to depict the accumulation of multiple layers of experience with the two cultures. The video work highlights how each of the series’ drawings relates to and coheres with the others.
Hyun-Sook Hong Lee (b. 1958) has been an active eco-feminist artist for the past 30 years. By depicting the symbiotic relationship between humans, nature, and inanimate objects, Hong Lee addresses the oppression of nature and women in patriarchal structures and systems through her artwork. During the pandemic, the video What You Are Touching Now (2020) was created. Through narration, audio, and video, the artist presents the immersive experience of touching a statue in a temple in Bukhansan.
From June 8 to June 29, 2022, the gallery Space Willing N Dealing, which aims to shine a light on emerging Korean artists, will host the exhibition New Life to introduce five female artists who are now mothers. The title of the exhibition, New Life, reflects the new aspect of life that pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood have brought to the artists, their children, and the artworks. The exhibition demonstrates how these changes directly and indirectly affected each artist’s work and artistic practice.
Dongwan Kook (b. 1979) uses drawings, paintings, sculptures, and books to depict the process of accessing the unconscious. Kook captures and records her dreams through text and sculpture, and she often discovers things about herself through free association drawings. The artist’s subconscious is brought to the surface through drawings, which are frequently enlarged and transformed into paintings. In this exhibition, Kook displays 41 drawings of her fetus that she drew using free association techniques, one per week over the course of her 40-week pregnancy. A book by the artist containing the illustrations that correspond to the texts is also presented at the exhibition.
Heo-ang Kim (b.1989) is an artist who creates paintings that capture a range of emotions based on her personal experiences. In her paintings, she depicts her life as a caregiver after giving birth. Even though it is impossible to avoid extreme body changes after childbirth and the exhausting daily routines of caregiving, the artist finds joy in daily life and expresses this through her vibrant paintings. After experiencing the change of becoming a mother, the artist broadens her interest in the lives of all individuals, not just her child.
Utilizing various image editing techniques, Hyangro Yoon (b. 1986) explores the potential of abstract painting. One of the examples is the Canvas series. The artist scans images from American abstract expressionist Helen Frankenthaler’s catalog Ressonée. Yoon alters the images and adds new visual elements to the canvas. By altering images from the catalog and incorporating the image of his son’s painting, Yoon attempts to create a new connection between the past and the present.
Chae Yeon Lee (b. 1981) depicts still landscapes and portraits in the Korean folk art style known as Minhwa. The genre was a popular art form that was usually created by unknown artists for those seeking a blessing or a wish. Lee began to create folk art in part out of concern for her family’s well-being. Scallions, which appear frequently in her paintings, serve as a symbol for the artist. The vegetable is a low-cost addition to any dish, highlighting the main ingredient and possessing a robust vitality that the artist believes is comparable to her own.
Sang A Han (b. 1987) depicts unfamiliar landscapes with black ink on cotton fabric using traditional Korean painting techniques. The creation of an unfamiliar scene is achieved by introducing an unconscious element into a typical landscape. Through free association painting and the incorporation of symbolic images, the artist expresses various emotions such as hope and anxiety in her life as a mother and an artist. In the exhibition, a precarious-looking installation reminiscent of Tapdori, a Korean custom in which participants walk in circles around a pagoda, is presented in the hope of wishing her family well.