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Yun Hyong-keun gets spotlight in New York

Yun Hyong-keun's 'Burnt Umber & Ultramarine' (1991) / Courtesy of PKM Gallery
Yun Hyong-keun's 'Burnt Umber & Ultramarine' (1991) / Courtesy of PKM Gallery

By Kwon Mee-yoo

Works of the late artist Yun Hyong-keun (1928-2007), one of the "dansaekhwa" ― Korean monochrome painting ― artists known for his use of colors representing heaven and earth, are drawing attention in New York.

The David Zwirner gallery is hosting a solo show of Yun's work at its Chelsea location in New York, centering on the artist's later work, created between the late 1980s and '90s. This is the second time for David Zwirner, one of the most prestigious galleries in the world, to present Yun's work in New York.

Yun created abstract compositions reflecting Korea's modern history including Japanese colonial rule, the Korean War (1950-53) and the post-war dictatorships. The artist worked strictly with two colors ― ultramarine and burnt umber, each representing heaven and earth, respectively ― in simple yet profound strokes on linen or hemp canvases.

Yun Hyong-keun in front of his work at his Seogyo-dong studio in Seoul in October 1989 / Courtesy of PKM Gallery
Yun Hyong-keun in front of his work at his Seogyo-dong studio in Seoul in October 1989 / Courtesy of PKM Gallery

"I want to make paintings that, like nature, one never tires of looking at. That is all that I want in my art," Yun wrote in 1976.

The gallery explained that Yun's pieces "engage with yet transcend Eastern and Western art movements and visual traditions." According to David Zwirner, Yun's work exhibits the sophistication and restraint of traditional Korean scholarly painting, while also reflecting the artist's unique sensitivity to color and materials.

The exhibit chronicles subtle changes in Yun's work over time. The abstract forms in Yun's paintings become larger and darker in the early '90s and the edges become more defined by the mid-90s.

The exhibit was featured in a New York Times' article, which described Yun's work as "enthralling."

Will Heinrich wrote, "The dansaekhwa group were artists who found a bridge between Western-style modern art and Korean aesthetic traditions, not necessarily with strict monochrome, but in an overall focus on material surfaces and minimal elegance."

Yun Hyong-keun's 'Burnt Umber & Ultramarine' (1989) / Courtesy of PKM Gallery
Yun Hyong-keun's 'Burnt Umber & Ultramarine' (1989) / Courtesy of PKM Gallery

For Yun's distinct use of two colors, Heinrich compared it to a spiritual experience.

"I think what fascinates me is the way that every black rectangle, whether tall and narrow or one of several, echoes the shape of the canvas it's painted on. It makes them into paintings within paintings, or like shadows peeled up off the ground and reattached to the objects that cast them," he wrote.

A major retrospective on Yun was held at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea in 2018 and traveled to the Palazzo Fortuny in Venice, Italy as a collateral event to the 58th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, receiving positive reviews.

The New York show runs through March 7. The artist's Korean representative PKM Gallery will also hold a solo exhibition of Yun's work in April.
Yun Hyong-keun's 'Burnt Umber & Ultramarine' (1991) / Courtesy of PKM Gallery
Yun Hyong-keun's 'Burnt Umber & Ultramarine' (1991) / Courtesy of PKM Gallery

By Kwon Mee-yoo

Works of the late artist Yun Hyong-keun (1928-2007), one of the "dansaekhwa" ― Korean monochrome painting ― artists known for his use of colors representing heaven and earth, are drawing attention in New York.

The David Zwirner gallery is hosting a solo show of Yun's work at its Chelsea location in New York, centering on the artist's later work, created between the late 1980s and '90s. This is the second time for David Zwirner, one of the most prestigious galleries in the world, to present Yun's work in New York.

Yun created abstract compositions reflecting Korea's modern history including Japanese colonial rule, the Korean War (1950-53) and the post-war dictatorships. The artist worked strictly with two colors ― ultramarine and burnt umber, each representing heaven and earth, respectively ― in simple yet profound strokes on linen or hemp canvases.

Yun Hyong-keun in front of his work at his Seogyo-dong studio in Seoul in October 1989 / Courtesy of PKM Gallery
Yun Hyong-keun in front of his work at his Seogyo-dong studio in Seoul in October 1989 / Courtesy of PKM Gallery

"I want to make paintings that, like nature, one never tires of looking at. That is all that I want in my art," Yun wrote in 1976.

The gallery explained that Yun's pieces "engage with yet transcend Eastern and Western art movements and visual traditions." According to David Zwirner, Yun's work exhibits the sophistication and restraint of traditional Korean scholarly painting, while also reflecting the artist's unique sensitivity to color and materials.

The exhibit chronicles subtle changes in Yun's work over time. The abstract forms in Yun's paintings become larger and darker in the early '90s and the edges become more defined by the mid-90s.

The exhibit was featured in a New York Times' article, which described Yun's work as "enthralling."

Will Heinrich wrote, "The dansaekhwa group were artists who found a bridge between Western-style modern art and Korean aesthetic traditions, not necessarily with strict monochrome, but in an overall focus on material surfaces and minimal elegance."

Yun Hyong-keun's 'Burnt Umber & Ultramarine' (1989) / Courtesy of PKM Gallery
Yun Hyong-keun's 'Burnt Umber & Ultramarine' (1989) / Courtesy of PKM Gallery

For Yun's distinct use of two colors, Heinrich compared it to a spiritual experience.

"I think what fascinates me is the way that every black rectangle, whether tall and narrow or one of several, echoes the shape of the canvas it's painted on. It makes them into paintings within paintings, or like shadows peeled up off the ground and reattached to the objects that cast them," he wrote.

A major retrospective on Yun was held at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea in 2018 and traveled to the Palazzo Fortuny in Venice, Italy as a collateral event to the 58th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, receiving positive reviews.

The New York show runs through March 7. The artist's Korean representative PKM Gallery will also hold a solo exhibition of Yun's work in April.
Kwon Mee-yoo meeyoo@koreatimes.co.kr


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