[Venice Biennale 2022] Exhibition in Venice spotlights contemporary Korean artist Ha Chong-hyun | SehndeWeb

Installation view of Ha Chong-hyun’s exhibition at Palazzetto Tito in Venice, Italy (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

VENICE, Italy – Coinciding with the 2022 Venice Biennale, a retrospective of Korean contemporary artist Ha Chong-hyun is on display at Palazzetto Tito, a historic palace in Dorsoduro, southeast of Venice. The exhibition includes rare old paintings with creative experimentation by the famous 86-year-old artist.

The retrospective is a side event of the 59th Venice Biennale and is jointly organized by La Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa, the Kukje Gallery in Seoul and the Tina Kim Gallery in New York.

Installation view of Ha Chong-hyun's exhibition at Palazzetto Tito in Venice, Italy (Galerie Kukje, Galerie Tina Kim)

Installation view of Ha Chong-hyun’s exhibition at Palazzetto Tito in Venice, Italy (Galerie Kukje, Galerie Tina Kim)

The exhibition, under the curatorial direction of renowned curator Kim Sun-jung, aims to shed light on Ha’s 60-year career. Ha is one of the few pioneers of abstract art in Korea and is known as one of the leading members of the “dansaekhwa” movement – the first contemporary art trend in Korea after the country’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule. “Dansaekhwa” refers to monochrome painting.

It’s no surprise that Kim selected works from the artist’s signature “Conjunction” series which he has doggedly pursued since the early 1970s. Interestingly, the curator has also shed light on the little-known journey of an artist who was at the forefront of the Korean contemporary art scene with the “Birth” series of 1967-1968, which emphasizes traditional elements. Also included is the pioneering 1967 “White Paper on Urban Planning”, which discusses urbanization and the changing physical landscape of Seoul.

In particular, the “White Paper on Town Planning” discusses the radical transformation that South Korea experienced in the 1960s under the autocratic rule of President Park Chung-hee from 1961 to 1979.

“White Paper on Urban Planning” by Ha Chong-hyun created in 1967 (Courtesy of the artist and Kukje Gallery)

“In ‘White Paper on Urban Planning,’ the top half of the canvas is flat, but the bottom half is literally folded, physically wrinkled like waves. The folds allude to the forced compression associated with urbanization and the ‘rapid industrialization of Korea’ Kim explained.

Kim’s special bond with Ha dates back to 1993, when she first came to the Venice Biennale and saw her art in the small exhibition allocated to the Italian pavilion at the 45th Venice Biennale – two years before the creation of the Korean pavilion in 1995 at the 46th Venice Biennale.

At this year’s Biennale, two Koreans – artist Ha and Hanji Chun Kwan-young – are featured in the Biennale’s collateral exhibitions, which run alongside the prestigious contemporary art event.

“It’s fantastic to see how much Korean art has grown over the past few decades. There weren’t many satellite exhibitions of Korean artists during the Biennale at the time,” Kim noted.

The artist’s landmark work from 1973 “Work 73” is featured at the exhibition, in which Ha has drawn attention to the back of the painting by attaching barbed wire to its back supports. Kim said “Work 73” is a pivotal piece in Ha’s career because the work later developed into the “Conjunction” series.

“Conjunction 21-73” by Ha Chong-hyun, created in 2021 (courtesy of the artist and Kukje Gallery)

The “Conjunction” series, Ha’s signature, overturned the concept of paint and canvas. He makes his own hemp canvas, breaking with the typical choices of linen and cotton. He pushed thick layers of paint onto the back of the burlap so the paint oozed through, creating a unique texture on the front. Ha called this technique “baeapbeop”, which literally means “back pressure technique”.

Ha’s latest paintings, created since 2020, are displayed in the last room. He made them by pressing white paint through the weave of the fabric backing which was painted black. He then worked the surface with other simple colors.

“I also like his latest paintings. Ha has experimented with her craft throughout her career,” Kim said.

Ha co-founded the Avant Garde Association in 1969, made up of art critics and 12 member artists, and led the association until 1973. The group experimented with space by producing site-specific installations in using mundane objects such as barbed wire, plaster, wood, metal springs and newspaper. These experimental works would later become a cornerstone of his career.

By Park Yuna, Korea Herald correspondent

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