The extra I study artists related to the Dansaekhwa motion that started flourishing in Korea within the late Sixties, the extra I understand how deeply inextricable the work is from the nation’s battle for liberation and independence. Whereas the artists thought-about central to the motion will not be above criticism, notably given the patriarchal buildings governing the nation, the emergence of ladies artists and poets in the course of the Eighties in Korea means that main modifications had lengthy been underway. On the similar time, Korea’s engagement with modernism and postmodernism has most frequently been seen by a Western lens, usually by juxtaposing Korean monochromatic painters with American minimalists in a Western gallery setting. These pairings are likely to give attention to similarities and flatten out distinction.
That is one motive to see the exhibition Kwon Younger-Woo: Gestures in Hanji at Tina Kim Gallery (March 24–April 30, 2022). The opposite motive is to see the freshness that Younger-Woo achieved whereas working with conventional Korean supplies: hanji paper and ink. As an alternative of being impressed by Artwork Informel, as have been numerous Dansaekhwa artists, or reimagining Korean ink portray, he targeted on the materiality of hanji paper.
I wish to stress this function of Younger-Woo’s work as a result of it indicators his dedication to growing an artwork that embodied Korean tradition, whereas breaking with the extremely revered historical past of ink portray and calligraphy, which he was one of many few Dansaekhwa artists to have studied. On the similar, the Dansaekhwa artists had little curiosity within the formalist pondering of Clement Greenberg and the idea of constructing artwork about artwork. The thought of achieving a pure artwork was by no means a severe consideration.
Starting with Japan’s annexation of Korea in 1910, the nation’s battle for liberation lasted till the top of World Conflict II, solely to see it divided into two components, which grew to become everlasting in 1948. In 1950, the chief of North Korea, Kim Il-sung, began the Korean Conflict (1950-53) by invading South Korea. Whereas South Korea modernized after the cease-fire in 1953, and finally held free elections (beginning in 1987), the devastation of battle and division affected the populace of each nations.
Greater than 20 untitled artworks executed between the Seventies and 2000s (and never organized chronologically) are unfold throughout the gallery’s three distinct exhibition areas. Whereas some viewers could choose a chronological association, from which they could extract a story, I used to be comfortable to circle again by the exhibition, and thought in regards to the dates solely by the way. As soon as Younger-Woo settled on mulberry paper as his main materials, typically reduce, pierced, torn, and ripped (all direct performative acts), the thought of stylistic growth grew to become superfluous. Slicing parallel rows or puncturing holes that explode outward on the viewer, Younger-Woo scars the paper past restore. Whereas some writers have tried to offset what they understand because the artist’s aggressive act by utilizing phrases reminiscent of “serenity” to explain the looks, I feel that studying is simply too reductive.
It appears to me that Younger-Woo wounds the paper, in addition to registers each its sturdiness and its irreparable injury. The cuts can’t be “healed” with out scarring. When pale blue ink bleeds by the mulberry paper, round a puncture, the affiliation with wounds is deepened. In among the works it’s onerous to not join the paper to the human physique, the clean floor on which the on a regular basis world has left its mark. And but, whilst I state this, I understand the work exceeds these phrases. That is what he shares with the good Italian artist Alberto Burri, who’s an modern determine within the historical past of portray with out paint and with using instruments reminiscent of a scissors, a hammer, and an oxyacetylene torch, to register trauma to the portray’s physique.
The visceral nature of Younger-Woo’s work is layered and contradictory, pristine and hardy, gentle and weak. In “Untitled” (1985, gouache, Chinese language ink on Korean paper, 45.47 by 39.98 inches), the bottom of a blue, irregularly formed obtuse triangle begins on the higher left-hand nook and extends to the underside proper. Filling within the higher diagonal space of the paper, the cloud is marked by rows of parallel traces descending at a diagonal, from higher proper to decrease left. Blue ink extends past the diagonal cuts. The blue triangular kind turns into a rain cloud, whereas the diagonal cuts, by which the blue bleeds, are swelling traces of rain.
By bonding a blue cloud, rain, and scars, Younger-Woo presents the viewer with a deeper sense of the fact that nature goes on, no what matter what people are doing to one another. This doesn’t diminish human struggling, however seems to be at it from a broader perspective, which we could or could not discover comforting. That I feel is without doubt one of the artist’s main achievements. There are not any heroes in his work.
Within the layered abstraction “Untitled” (c. Eighties, Korean paper, 64.58 by 47.64 inches), Younger-Woo punctures the paper with lots of of holes. If we glance into the holes we see the sheet of unblemished paper to which the perforated sheet has been evenly affixed. It’s onerous to not learn these as bullet holes, whose projectiles are directed towards us. We’re as unguarded and vulnerable because the paper. And but, as within the different work I’ve described, I don’t assume that is the one studying. There may be additionally the paper’s testimony to survival, in addition to the sensation that one thing has damaged by this wall, maybe reaching freedom.
Younger-Woo marked numerous works with a pink seal as his signature. This conventional methodology of signing an vital doc underscores his allegiance to the historical past of Korean ink portray and calligraphy, in addition to calls consideration to the modifications he has made to this extremely revered legacy.
At first of this century, Younger-Woo expanded his strategies and purposes, as he did numerous instances in his profession. In counterpoint to his earlier work, the place “décollage” (taking off) is his main methodology, he started collaging sheets of paper to unbleached canvases, as in “Untitled” (c. 2000s, Korean paper on canvas, 46.06 by 35.83 inches) and “Untitled” (2002, Korean paper on canvas, 51.18 by 51.18 inches).
Within the first, Younger-Woo stacked six darkish and lightweight reduce types towards an unbleached, brown canvas, beginning with white. Whereas the white types are stable, the brown types echo the canvas’s coloration. It’s as if the paper is porous sufficient to let the canvas peer by. Affixed to the canvas, the pile may be learn as rocks in a panorama, an early human method of constructing a marker. What it may signify is as much as the viewer.
Within the second, a big, donut-like kind sits inside the sq.’s confines. Younger-Woo has positioned one other single open kind inside the giant donut’s aperture. This asymmetrical kind additionally has a gap in it. The shapes may be learn as natural, the composition as each types inside types (suggesting infinity) and a figure-ground relationship during which the constructive and adverse area play an equal function.
At first of the exhibition, within the corridor earlier than the primary gallery area, is a vitrine containing a few of Younger-Woo’s instruments. They embody conventional Korean brushes and objects he made to tear into the paper. He enlarged a standard kind, making it right into a response to his on a regular basis actuality and sense of historical past’s violence with out resorting to anecdote or narrative. On the similar time, his use of mulberry paper underscores his willpower to make artwork that was inseparable from Korean tradition and historical past — each previous and current. This modern mixture ought to remind us of the perils and capitalist impulse behind seeing Younger-Woo’s work by the lens of Western artwork.
Kwon Younger-Woo: Gestures in Hanji continues at Tina Kim Gallery (525 West twenty first Road, Chelsea, Manhattan) by April 30. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.