Suh Seung-Won | Early Works: 1960s to 1980s

When 5 Sep 2019 - 12 Oct 2019
Where Tina Kim Gallery
525 West 21st St
New York, NY 10011
United States
Enquiry 212.716.1100

Opening Reception: 5 September | 6 – 8 PM

Tina Kim Gallery is pleased to present its first solo exhibition of Suh Seung-Won (b. 1941), an artist who has played a leading role in the advent and evolution of modernism in Korea. One of the founding members of a group known as Origin, Suh is also celebrated for his major contribution to the formation of the A.G. (Avant-Garde Association) and the ongoing development of Dansaekhwa. On view from September 5 through October 12, 2019, the exhibition focuses on two bodies of work from key periods in Suh’s early career: his “development” period in the 1960s and the “analytical” period, spanning the 1970s through the 1980s. The exhibition constitutes the first time many of Suh’s historic works have been exhibited in New York.

Origin was founded in 1963 and exhibited together for decades thereafter. Along with Suh Seung-Won, the group’s founding members included Lee Seung-Jio and Kwon Young-Woo. The group emerged before Dansaekhwa and was united around a shared sensibility and practice. The Dansaekhwa artists worked as individuals and were later recognized as a leading global art movement following several curated exhibitions that drew attention to similarities in approach to methods and materials. Contrary to this, the Origin artists were younger and organized around a common spirit and desire for change. They were the generation of the April Revolution that took place in Korea on April 19, 1960, demanding the end of military dictatorship and foreign influence. Their principles and energy emerged in their artworks, which rejected the stylistic impositions of outside bodies such as Japan and the West in favor of a style they felt was uniquely Korean.

For over 50 years, Suh Seung-Won has consistently pursued a theory he terms “Simultaneity,” in which the artist seeks to distill his compositions to their most reductive state, while still maintaining a harmonious balance of form, color and space. The artist came of age in the context of post-war Korea, where there was uneven access to information about international movements such as Art Informel and Abstract Expressionism. It was in this dynamic environment that Suh sought to pioneer his own unique approach to geometric abstraction by synthesizing traditional formal vocabularies found in Korean culture such as the architecture of hanok (a traditional home), and its characteristic use of handmade paper as construction material.

Suh received his MFA from Hong-Ik University’s acclaimed painting department studying under Kim Whanki. Shortly thereafter he began his formal experimentation through founding Origin and his involvement in the A.G. collective, initially led by the Dansaekhwa master Ha Chong-Hyun. It was in a fertile intersection of western abstraction and eastern philosophy that gave rise to Dansaekhwa and Suh, having adopted this conceptual synthesis, pushed it further, maintaining a commitment to gestural exploration and formal research that has consistently defined his practice. As Suh invented his own vocabulary of geometric abstraction, he kept his palette consistently limited with a commitment to neutral tones. This underlying approach to balancing form and color can especially be seen in works from the “analytical” period, exhibited in the second gallery space. Evident in these paintings is the artist’s ongoing interest in creating a field in which three-dimensional forms and linear planes appear to float in the middle of the canvas, using perspective to create a psychologically charged space.

As a young artist, Suh was invited to participate in the seminal 1975 exhibition, Korea: Five Artists, Five Hinsek – White, at the Tokyo Gallery in Japan. Here, Suh exhibited alongside Park Seo-Bo, Kwon Young-Woo, Hur Hwang, and Lee Dong-Youb. The show highlighted the ways in which artists had adopted monochromatic practices, strategies of repetition and material plasticity, and how these processes informed what would later be called Dansaekhwa.

The 1970s and the 1980s were a critical period in the artist’s evolution as Suh began to refine his own formal vocabulary, pushing the limits of the perspectival environments he had been exploring and expanding the way he depicted three-dimensional space within a two-dimensional plane. In these works, his canvases show taught compositions that are suspended between depth and surface, aesthetics and phenomenology. The same themes can be seen to striking affect in later works, where the artist has created a complex series of intersecting geometric spaces that hold the viewer’s mind in balance as they seem to hover and unfold on the canvas.

In this pursuit of spatial harmony, the artist pushes the limitation of the canvas plane so far as to draw the viewer’s attention to the objects’ flat planes, while at the same time representing a window into the viewer’s consciousness. In the artist’s own words, “My aesthetic roots are planted in Korean traditional culture and its spirit, and I have strived to give a modern interpretation, which is expressed through the spirit of Simultaneity.”

By presenting a range of Suh’s early works, the exhibition at Tina Kim Gallery highlights a period of intensive experimentation, illustrating the formal rigor and personal evolution that underlies his ideas. The exhibition establishes the importance of Suh’s practice and broadens contemporary views of Korean art history in the early 1960s outside of Dansaekhwa, into the movements that grew alongside it from the same contextual stimuli.

Image courtesy of the organizer.

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