Seoul—Pace is honored to present Form of Now, the gallery’s second exhibition of works by Lee Kun-Yong. The founder of the Korean avant-garde art group Space and Time (ST), and a pioneer of Avant-Garde (AG), Lee is considered to be one of the foremost early champions of performance art in Korea. On view from 5 June to 24 August 2019, Form of Now will focus on the artist’s renowned performances and showcase a selection of photographs, paintings, and sculptural work spanning over four decades, including a live performance on June 4 at 6pm.
Between 1975 and 1980, Lee created roughly fifty performances during which he enacted banal activities of everyday life, such as eating, walking, and counting, accompanying these actions with a series of hand gestures. While on the surface they appear to be reenactments of daily life, it is crucial to understand Lee’s works in a deeper socio-political context of South Korea during this time. Then South Korean president, Park Chung-Hee, declared martial law in 1972, which ended in 1979 with his assassination. In a mission to “protect” South Korea from Communist threats from across the northern border, government surveillance, control, and suppression of civil rights was at an all-time high. Visual art was no exception, and artists working outside the recognized categories of Western style oil painting, ink painting, and sculpture were denied any government support. It is no coincidence then, that Lee’s early performance works involved little more than the repetition of very basic actions that did not attract the attention of the state.
Many performances were documented in a methodical way, acting as a visual manual which viewers could easily duplicate step by step. From the very beginning, Lee regarded documentation as an integral part of the expanded life of his artworks and in Tate Papers No. 23, art historian Joan Kee highlights an important aspect in understanding Lee Kun-Yong’s photographs: “Yet it was the photographs that subsequently assumed a special significance, especially given how they were often taken to mirror, or at least allude to photographs taken specifically for newspapers. Although witnessing an actual performance is profoundly different from experiencing it through one or even a brace of still photographs, it is worth keeping in mind that Lee Kun-Yong and his closest associates placed as much, if not more emphasis on the photographs documenting their activities.”
Kee’s statement indicates that Lee’s photographs extend beyond simple reproduction of the live performance, becoming art objects with an entirely new set of conceptual parameters. For instance, prior to performing Logic of Place at the fourth A.G. show of 1975, and later in an exhibition of 1976, Lee Kun-Yong executed the work in stages at Hongik University while Yi Wan-Ho, an artist and close associate, took a series of documentary photographs. While the performance itself has unquestionable significance, the original photographs taken prior to the official execution of Logic of Place demonstrate the significance of the documented image in his work. Lee’s exploration of the possibility of performance as a live medium and one through which to address the uses of photography in Yushin Korea positions him as a premier artist in Korea.
Alongside Logic of Place, Form of Now also presents The Method of Drawing and Logic of Hands, photographs shown for the first time on this scale. A recurring subject throughout these performances is Lee’s emphasis on the role of the body as a medium, which is also fused into the title of the exhibition: Form of Now. Loosely translated from the Korean hyun-shin, it is derived from Chinese characters hyun, which is defined as ‘now’ or ‘the present’ and shin, the body. Put together, the word can be defined as an act of presenting one’s self to another. The artist’s choice of the words encompasses the philosophy underlying in his performances and embodies his bold attempts in performing within a strictly controlled Korea.
Lee Kun-Yong’s works have exhibited widely within Korea and abroad, including the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul (1973), Paris City Modern Art Museum (1973), Cagnes-sur-Mer, Cannes (1976), The 15th Biennale International de São Paulo (1979), City Art Museum of Lisbon (1979), Grand Palais, Paris (1986), Seoul Arts Center (1995), Busan Museum of Art (1998), The Korean Culture and Arts Foundation Fine Art Center, Seoul (1999), Gwangju Museum of Art (2000), National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gwacheon (2014), and Pace Gallery, Beijing (2018).
His works are held in collections across Korea and abroad, including Busan Museum of Art, Korea; Daegu Art Museum, Korea; Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art, Ansan, Korea; Hongik Museum of Art, Seoul, Korea; Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul, Korea; National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, Korea; Seoul Museum of Art, Korea; Seoul Olympic Museum of Art, Korea; The Rachofsky Collection, Dallas, USA; and Tate, London, U.K., among others.