"I want people to understand my artwork so that even after I’m gone from this Earth, memories of me will still be around."
- Kwang Young Chun
Landau Contemporary is proud to present a solo online exhibition of works by celebrated Korean artist Kwang Young Chun whose
Aggregations seep into the imagination and reinterpret the history of a cultural ancestry through a modern and personalized perspective.
Kwang Young Chun's work is rooted in the cultural history of his native Korea. Born in 1944, in Hongchun, South Korea, Chun was just a boy when the Japanese occupation ended, and the Korean war began. The brutality and destruction young Chun witnessed impacted the artist's worldview, and he turned to America as the embodiment of liberty, integrity, peace and prosperity.
After he completed his Bachelor's degree at Hong-Ik University, Chun moved to the United States to pursue a Master’s degree in painting at the Philadelphia College of Art. As he puts it, his twenties, "were all about America. The thin young man from a distant country was suddenly a social, ideological alien in a new world."
In Philadelphia, Chun immersed himself in the creative culture and freedom afforded by western education but became increasingly disillusioned by a consumerist culture seemingly immune to the carnage of the Vietnam War and the economic divide that followed. America now seemed self-obsessed and complacent.
Although the budding artist understood and appreciated the expressive and prevailing artistic practices of the day, Pop Art and Minimalism among others, he felt more aligned with Abstract Expressionism which, "seemed to be the best way to freely express my surprise and sadness at witnessing the huge gap between idea and reality."
Abstract Expressionism allowed Chun to experiment freely with the formal means to convey the "chaos and struggles of the world I lived in" without the impeding expectations of Korean teachings ossified by centuries of tradition, which Chun felt "censored the artistic imagination."
"I wanted to express the conflicts that were happening between people and between the past, present, and future, though subtly hidden behind a dangerous harmony. Abstract Expressionism was the answer to my problem."
- Kwang Young Chun
ONT-016, 1986 (Photo property of the Mori Arts Center)
Chun's Abstract Expressionist works from the 70s and 80s are a triumph of process more than execution. He covered the pictorial surface with strips of paper or tape, then dripped mixed printing pigment over them before removing the strips. The resulting geometric abstractions presaged the Aggregations developed 15 years later, works which are now universally celebrated for their individuality and expressive range.
Despite favourable reviews with shows at the Holly Solomon and Lotus galleries in New York around this time, Chun considered himself to be a fraud. "I began to feel a sense of shame that I might remain a second-rate artist, as my artistic philosophy and method were borrowed ones," he wrote. "The image of cursed artists endlessly painting second-rate imitations in a gloomy studio started to haunt and devastate me."
Chun returned to Korea in 1977, still searching for more personal essence and purpose in his work. He dissected the notion of meaning and expression through art that addressed individual, collective and metaphysical concepts but could think of no feasible alternative to Abstract Expressionism in the contemporary or international art scene. Yet, he was determined to create art that genuinely reflected his cultural heritage without being restrained by its tradition: "How can I, as a Korean artist, create my own original style?"
"I think the first thing I saw was my mother's face, and then there was mulberry paper. The paper is not just for writing and drawing, but is like the spirit and soul of Koreans."
- Kwang Young Chun
Then, in the spring of 1995, after almost 20 years as a successful Abstract Expressionist painter, a brief illness led to the inspiration he was searching for. Bedridden with the flu, Chun's wife returned home with Chinese herbs and medicines delicately wrapped in a thin paper. The touch of the medication through the paper prompted a flood of childhood memories.
"When I was young," Chun recalls. "I was a sickly child, and my mother used to take me to a doctor in the neighbourhood. I never liked the place because of the strong odor from the infusions, and the threatening sight of acupuncture needles. While the doctor felt my pulse, muttering something to himself, my mother held my hand, and I fixed my eyes on the ceiling: numerous packages of mulberry paper were hanging from the ceiling, each with a name card of the medicine wrapped inside. The image of my old memories of the drugstore lasted in my head for a while."
What emerged from Chun's nostalgia was a new and distinctly Korean motif and method of working. The artist moved from two-dimensional paintings to three-dimensional trompe l'oeil assemblages made up of triangular Styrofoam shapes wrapped in the traditional Korean Mulberry paper, or hanji, that are then bound with a string or 'thread' made of the same paper and collated into a wall-mounted or freestanding frame, a nod to the medicine containers that hung from his doctor's ceiling.
The transition may have reflected the artist's desire to approach and inform his art "through a Korean sentiment," but as Fumio Nanjo, Director of the More Art Museum, noted, it was also "an experiment in how to stage a particular culture in the arena of international expression, create a bridge to modernism and postmodernism, and acquire the right for it to participate as a universal language." In essence, Chun's new works were a means of conflating the past and present, of conveying a unique cultural history in a contemporary context.
Hanji, a distinctive Mulberry-pulp paper used by most Korean book printers until the 1930s, remains at the core of Chun's artistic practice, the material expression of his imagination. More than a childhood association, Mulberry paper is part of the Korean ethos and identity; it has been used for centuries for writing, printing, painting, but also to line walls, floors, as packaging and for weatherproofing. As the artist says, "For me, hanji represents Korea, my ancestors, the Korean spirit."
Sourced from indigenous trees and prized for its strength and water-resistance, Chun carefully selects his paper from older, scholarly books and manuscripts that he collects and stores in air-conditioned warehouses. He has accumulated more than 20,000 historical texts, some of which span centuries, that were produced using printing methods that have remained virtually unchanged since the thirteen century.
Moreover, the old sheets retain the imprint of those who have touched it over generations, which adds a spiritual dimension to his practice. "I can't use new paper," he told the New York Times ahead of a 2006 exhibition of his work. "For me, the old paper has a life, a history. It contains the soul of the people who touched it. In a way, I'm wrapping the stories of people's lives."
“By choosing old hanji book pages Chun makes his Aggregations emphatically Korean, emphatically personal and emphatically nostalgic.”
– Joan M. Cummins, Curator, Brooklyn Museum
Many Korean artists have paid homage to their culture by incorporating hanji into their art, mostly through watercolours or painting. Yet, the method in which Chun chose to handle Mulberry paper was unparalleled and allowed him to create brooding landscapes that fuse sculpture, painting and language.
He chose to fold the paper in an East Asian manner, using it as bojagi or wrapping cloth, a practice that dates back to the early Choson Dynasty (around 1392) where the edges of the paper folds run diagonally across the parcel. It is a fastidious process that was used to carry and store objects, "where both merchants and gift-givers take great pains to make sure that the attractive presentation of goods or gifts expresses an extra measure of regard for the recipient," noted Joan M. Cummins, Senior curator of Asian Art at the Brooklyn Museum.
Chun unifies thousands of delicately wrapped triangles using this Zen-like process to create his Aggregations. With subtle gradations of size and hue, the various bojagi are affixed to a frame in an intricate arrangement that generates patterns so rich and textured that they transform into ethereal lunar landscapes or crystalline formations that seem to burst from their center; dynamic works that harmonize traditional process with modern expression.
Chun's work owes a formal or strategic debt to Minimalism and Colour Field painting, notably in their near-obsessive repetition of form, the underlying grid-like structure, simple geometric shapes, the subtle tonal gradations or single hue, and their numeric titles. The artist himself has compared the vivid scapes and dynamic, grid-like structures of his Aggregations to the gestural brushwork of his Abstract Expressionist paintings.
However, Ann Landi, curator of the 2009 Kwang Young Chun exhibition at the Mori Arts Museum astutely noted that Chun's "works are really far too rich in allusion to fit neatly into a movement that by and large despised any romantic or associative impulses on the part of the artist."
"For all their Korean sentiment, the Aggregations are also replete with references to the modernist canon with its largely Western foundations, the canon that Chun engaged throughout his early career as a painter."
- Joan M. Cummins
Shaped by his early art education and the aesthetics of modernism, Chun's works are also deeply rooted in the Korean cultural fabric. They are the amalgamation of different histories, languages and texts and the synthesis of a distinct vision and process; they are the aggregation of every soul who has touched the hanji embedded in his work, including the artist before it becomes a fully realized creation: "My fingers are the last ones to touch it, it closes a chapter," Chun has said. His works exist outside any specific artistic convention and communicate in a language that is wholly personal yet universally understood.
The Aggregations are products of modernity, a nation's literary and intellectual history is transcribed across the artist's narrative landscapes, and the philosophy and wisdom of Chun's forebears are elevated and reinvented in the artist's hands. As Korean, or Hangul, characters are bundled unevenly alongside the more formal and traditional Chinese characters, the artist creates new meanings; knowledge is reborn. "The fragmentary passages of text on the wrappers are like voices in a crowd hoping to be heard but mostly cancelling one another out," noted Cummins. "The voices that emerge will be pieced together to create knowledge."
The jostling of voices is how Chun articulates his philosophical view of the world. "By attaching these pieces one by one to a two-dimensional surface, I wanted to express how the basic units of information can create harmony and conflict with each other," he wrote. "This became an important milestone in my long artistic journey to express the troubles of modern man, who is driven to a devastated life by materialism, endless competition, conflicts and destruction. After almost twenty years, I was now able to communicate with my own gestures and words."
"The writers who Chun includes become his collaborators in a sense; their words and theories become part of his work, and further reflect the great weight he places on the concept of language as a tool of communication overall. "
- Eric Shiner, The Andy Warhol Museum
Standing before one of these deeply intricate works, the viewer is at first struck by the jagged surfaces of the primordial urbanscapes that exist somewhere between modern painting and sculpture. Chun is a master of colour, though his range is not vast, and the subdued or dramatic hues pulsate with energy.
On closer inspection, some will recognize the interplay of Hangul and Chinese characters printed on the distinctive tea-stained Mulberry paper. For those viewers, Chun's Aggregations erupt in a cacophony of intellectual and historical voices. Those unable to decipher the characters are equally drawn into Chun's sculptural narrative and feel a sense of harmony despite the chaotic overflow information.
"It would be rewarding for me if, in 100 year's time, future generations saw me as an artist who reinterpreted the stories of our ancestors from a modern perspective."
- Kwang Young Chun
Chun has said that his artistic aim was to "tell the story of my culture." The artist has achieved and surpassed that goal. He has coalesced his personal history, his existential philosophy, his cultural identity and Art History into strikingly beautiful compositions; he has reconciled past and future in establishing an artistic legacy that is increasingly difficult to achieve.
"A great artist, especially in an art world that is increasingly global in its reach," Landi wrote, "must of necessity transcend the narrowness of the traditions on which it initially draws. The work needs broader appeal if it is to have any sort of staying power, and as Chun's critics and collectors have recognized, he has indeed found a language that speaks on many levels and in universal terms."
From his days as an Abstract Expressionist to the works he continues to produce today, Chun's career has spanned over 50 years. Among his many awards and achievements, in 2009, he won the Presidential Prize at the 41st Korean Culture and Art Prize, awarded by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. In 2001, he was named Artist of the year by the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul.
He has exhibited extensively at gallery and museums around the world, including the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; Mori Arts Museum, Tokyo; The National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul; The National Museum of Contemporary Art, Gwacheon; The Columbus Museum, Georgia; and The Wooyang Museum of Contemporary Art, Gyeongju, South Korea.
Chun has already established his artistic legacy. His works are included in the permanents collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; The Seoul National University Museum of Art, Seoul; Museum Kunstwerk, Germany; Woodrow Wilson International Center, Washington D.C; Malta National Museum, Malta; Yale University Art Gallery, Connecticut; Columbia University of Law, New York; The Busan Metropolitan Art Museum, Busan; and the Rockefeller Foundation, New York.
Chun's 2019 Exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum (Photo by Jonathan Dorado)
Photo property of the Artist's studio
After starting his artistic career studying western painting, in particular Abstract Expressionism, Kwang Young Chun turned to the Mulberry paper as a way to express his unique, Korean artistic voice.
The papers, taken from books that are often a hundred years old, have been touched by people from all walks of life. Over the years, these people – men and women, young and old – have left indelible fingerprints. Chun captures the spirit of these people and their varied voices in his series of Aggregations, a series he started working on in the 1990s. Today, he is recognized internationally for these sculptural forms.
The basis of his work is individual, triangular, Styrofoam shapes. Individually, these shapes are minuscule. Taken together, however, their visual impact is immense. This concept of the aggregate is what informs Chun’s work. The Styrofoam shapes are covered in Korean mulberry paper. In Korea, the paper is a mainstay and has many utilitarian uses from floor and window coverings to candy and medicinal wrappers.
It also resonates with personal meaning for the artist, who recalls trips to a herbalist as a small child. Medicines wrapped in Mulberry paper hung from the ceiling of the shop, the paper protecting the contents from dampness and insects. Chun uses pages recycled from old books to cover the geometric forms. These pages are covered in Korean and Chinese characters, adding another layer of cultural and personal meaning. He hand-ties the paper over each shape, twisting pages into a string to complete the wrapping. In this way, Chun integrates traditional materials into a contemporary context.
Select Solo Exhibitions
2019-20 Sundaram Tagore Gallery Singapore
2019-20 Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art
2019 Beck & Eggeling, Dusseldorf
2018-19 Brooklyn Museum
2018 PKM Gallery, Seoul, Korea
2018 Sundaram Tagore Gallery, NY, USA
2017 Museum de Reede
2017 2019 Beck & Eggeling, Vienna
2017 Pearl Lam Galleries
2017 Boghossian Foundation, Brussels
2016 Retrospective, Wooyang Museum of Contemporary Art, Gyeongju, Korea
2014 Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London
2014 Hasted Kraeutler Gallery, New York
2013 Museum of Art Seoul National University
2013 Assemblage--Singapore Art Plural Gallery
2012 Design Futurology--Museum of Art Seoul National University
2012 Aggregation: Paper Sculpture --Towson University Asian Art Center
2012 Hasted Kraeutler Gallery, New York
2012 Surface: Die Poesie Des Materials--Museum Kunstwerk2012 Aggregations-- Daura Gallery--Lynchburg College, Virginia
2012 Towson University Museum, MarylandLynchburg College Daura Museum, VirginiaToday Art Museum, Beijing
2011 Knoxville Museum of Art, Tennessee
2010 National Art Museum of China, Beijing
2009 Mori Arts Center, Tokyo, Japan
University of Wyoming Art Museum, Laramie, Wyoming
Singapore Tyler Print Institute, Singapore
2008 The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Connecticut
Robert Miller Gallery, New York
2007 The Columns Gallery, Seoul
2006 Kim Foster Gallery, New York
Michelle Rosenfeld Gallery, New York
Singapore Tyler Print Institute, Singapore
Annely Juda Fine Art, London
2005 Kukje Gallery, Seoul
2004 Kim Foster Gallery, New York
Michelle Rosenfeld Gallery, New York
2003 Conny Dietzschold Gallery, Sydney Newcontemporaries, Sydney
2002 Columbus Museum, Columbus, Georgia
Kim Foster Gallery, New Youk
Michell Rosenfield Gallery, New York
Kukje Gallery, Seoul
2001 "2001 The Artist of this year,” The National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul
2000 Michelle Rosenfeld Gallery, New York
Commenoz Gallery, Key Biscayne, FL
Kim Foster Gallery, New York
1999 Park Ryu-Sook Gallery, Seoul
Kim Foster Gallery, New York
1998 Gallery SiKong, Taegu
1997 Gallery Bhak, Seoul
1995 Gallery Bhak, Seoul
1994 Jong Ro Gallery, Seoul
1992 Gallery Hyundai, Seoul
1990 Gallery Dong Sung Arts Center, Seoul
1989 Gallery Yoon, Seoul
1988 Gallery Hyundai, Seoul
1987 Kwan Hoon Gallery, Seoul
1986 Sirota Gallery, Tokyo
1985 Kamakura Gallery, Tokyo
Muramatsu Gallery, Tokyo
1984 Kwan Hoon Gallery, Seoul
1980 American Cultural Center Gallery, Seoul
1979 Malta National Museum, Saint Julian, Malta
Lotus Gallery, New York
1977 Shin Sea Gea Gallery, Seoul
1976 Fifth St. Gallery, Wilmington, Delaware
1976 Fine Art Center, Seoul
1975 Lotus Gallery, New York
1972 Holly Solomon Gallery, New York
1971 International House Gallery, Philadelphia
1968 Seoul Cultural Center Gallery, Seoul
Selected Group Exhibitions
2020 Dep Art Gallery, Milan
2016 Pearl Lam Galleries
2016 Palazzo Grimani Art Museum at Venice Biennale
2009 Moscow Biennial, Moscow
2008 ‘Midnight Full of Stars’, Visual Art Center, New Jersey
‘Undercover Project’, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum
2007 ‘Addicted to Paper’, Gallery Lelong, Zurich, Switzerland
2006 “Holland Paper Biennial, ”CODA Museum, Apeldoorn, The Netherlands (concurrently viewed at the Museum Rijswijk)
2005 “2005 Seoul Art Exhibition,” Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul
2004 “The Art Scene in New York” Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
“Commemorative Exhibition of Seoul Museum of Art South Branch opening, Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul
“Crossings 2003, Korea/Hawaii”, The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu
“Art Unlimited,” Art 34 Basel, Basel, Switzerland
2001 "Compelled,” Hunterdon Museum of Art, New Jersey
2000 "Dealer's Choice', Robert Kidd Gallery, Michigan
San Francisco Art ExhibitionPark Ryu-Sook Gallery, San Francisco
Gwenda Jay/ Addington Gallery, Chicago
1999 Galerie Die Weisse, Cologne
1998 Galerie Dorothea van der Koelen, Mainz
"Crossing Boundaries", Gallery V, Columbus, Ohio
1996 “Anthology of Contemporary Painting Artists,”
Da Do Gallery, Seoul“Korean Paper-The Origin Esthetics”, Da Do Gallery, Seoul 1995 L.A. International Biennale Invitation, Gallery Bhak-Remba Gallery, L.A
1994 "Korean Paper Works of 3 Artists,” Chong Ro Gallery, Seoul
1993 Asian Art Biennale Bangladesh, Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy, Dhaka
1987 Seoul-Yokohama Contemporary Artists Exhibition, Gallery of Art Cosmo Center
1986 Yokohama Contemporary Artists Exhibition, The Museum of Yokohama
1985 ISPPA, Walker Hill Museum, Seoul
1984 '84 ISPPA-HUKUOKA, The Museum of Fukuoka, Fukuoka
"Ecole de Seoul,” The National Museum of Modern Art, Seoul Korea
Today's Artists Exhibition, Kwan Hoon Gallery, Seoul
1977 The Invited Show 2 Contemporary Artists, Fifth St. Gallery, Wilmington, Delaware
1976 The Invited Exhibition Contemporary Artists, University of Delaware Museum, Delaware
The Invited Exhibition Lotus 10 Artists, Lotus Gallery, New York
The Invited Exhibition Contemporary Artists, Baulchie Institute Museum
1975 Woodmere Gallery, Philadelphia
Wanamaker Gallery, Philadelphia
William Penn Memorial Museum, Harrisburg
1974 The 24th Cheltenham Art Exhibition, Cheltenham Art Center, Cheltenham
Drexel University Museum, Philadelphia
1973 Civic Center Museum, Philadelphia
Earth Art Modern II Art Exhibition, Civic Center Museum, Philadelphia
1971-78 National Forum of Professional Artists Show Philadelphia, Philadelphia
Civic Center Museum, Philadelphia
1966-68 Korean Contemporary Artists Invited Exhibition, The Chosun Il-Bo Press Group, Seoul
1966-67 The Shin Sang Group Show, National Museum of Modern Art, Seoul Awards
Presidential Prize in the 41st Korean Culture and Art Prize, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Seoul, Korea
Chun Kwang Young; Artist of the Year 2001, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul, Korea
Silver Prize in the 27th Cheltenham Art Center Exhibition sponsored by Cheltenham Art Center
Special Prize in the Earth Art II sponsored by Civic Center Museum, Philadelphia
Special Prize in the 18th Korean National Art’s Exhibition sponsored by the Korean Culture and Arts Foundation, Seoul, Korea
Korean Contemporary Artist’s Invited Exhibition Special Prize, held by Chosun Press Group, National Museum of Modern Art, Seoul, Korea
Special Prize in the 5th, 6th Shin Sang Group Exhibition, held by Shin Sang Group, National Museum of Modern Art, Korea
Selected Public Collections
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Woodrow Wilson International Center, Washington D.C.
University of Virginia Art Museum, Charlottesville, Virginia
United Nations headquarters, New York
National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul
The Leeum, Samsung Museum, Seoul Hansol Foundation of Culture, Seoul
Malta National Museum, Saint Julian, Malta
The Museum of Hong-Ik University, Seoul
Columbia University of Law, New York
Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul
Busan Metropolitan Art Museum, Busan
National Gallery of Australia at Canberra, Canberra
Chase Manhattan Bank, New York
Fidelity Investments Boston, Boston
Rockefeller Foundation, New York
William Penn Memorial Museum, Philadelphia
Philadelphia Society Building, Philadelphia
The National Military Academy, Seoul
Seoul 63 Building, Seoul
Pak Young Sa Publishing Co, Seoul LG Group, Seoul
Woong-Jin Group, Seoul
Sea Ah Group, Seoul
Hotel Shilla, Seoul
Chosun Hotel, GyeongjuHan Wha Corp., Seoul
Lake Hills Country Club, Su Won, Korea
Il Shin Spinning Co., Seoul
Yu Yu Ind. Ltd., Seoul
Syn Key Group, Seoul
Seo Heung Metal Co., Seoul
Sa Jo Corp., Seoul
Dong Yang Tinplate Corp, Seoul
Seo Won Valley Country Club, Song-Chou, Korea
Codina Group Inc., Coral Gables
Neiman Marcus Department Store, Dallas
Jackson Consulting Corp., Coral Gables
International Finance Corp., Washington, DC
Continental-Bental L. L.C., Bellevue, Washington
Rosewood Stone Group, Mill Valley, CA
Lattanzio E Associati SRL, Milan
Tita and Gene Zeffren, Chicago
Potash Corporation-USA Headquarters, Chicago
Oracle Corporation, NY
Important Private Collections
David Bassford, USA
Franklin Silverstone, NY
Frank & Barbara Peters, USA
Larry & Hazel Rosen, USA
Marla Prather / Senior Curator, Whitney Museum of American Art, NY
Bruce & Judith Eisner, USA
Dorothy Lemelson, USA
Michelle & Herbert Rosenfeld, USA
Bennett Lebow, USA
Gina Barroso, MEXICO
Victor Barnett (Chairman of Burberry’s), UK
Werner and Ingrid Welle
Aggregation16-SE076 at Landau Contemporary
We thank you for visiting our online exhibition. Please contact the gallery to find out more about this exceptional artist.