The Seoul Review: Meditation in Pink

December 1, 2020

Joon Mann

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Meditation in Pink
By: Joon Mann

I was browsing the latest OVR: Miami Beach, this year’s digital version of Art Basel in Miami Beach (Dec. 2 – 6), hoping to find some fresh new works. I was surprised to find the most vital piece was a new painting by Ha Chong-hyun, eighty-five-year-old Korean painter. It was among 2,500 works from all over the world. It was also a moment that Ha Chong-hyun’s work personally talked to me.

Ha Chong-hyun (하종현, b. 1935, Sancheong)’s latest works were shown through three major galleries in the fair; Kukje Gallery, Tina Kim Gallery, and Blum & Poe. His delicious pink painting which Blum & Poe put up as their front work definitely caught my eye.

Ha is known for his labor and process-based practice. He started “Conjunction” series in 1974, the series still continues. In the series, the artist uses rough hemp as a canvas, and pushes thick oil paint color from the back to its surface. Although he manipulates the paint with tools, like a brush or palette knife, his aim is minimalizing his control. “I did not want any traces of the artist’s intention or actions left apparent on the painting surface, and in order for the materials to exist there as they as, I applied as minimal force as possible, so that the act does not appear too much on the surface. I think that’s why I chose this method.” he once said (The artists in their own worlds: Ha Chong-hyun’s ‘Searching for naturalness,’ Space magazine, May 1982). In this sense, his work shares a sense of materiality of the work of American minimalists like Donald Judd and Tony Smith.

Indeed, sculptural installation was something Ha initially examined in the early 1970s. He explored the correlation between industrial objects and organic form. Thus, when he turned to painting on his woven hemp as a canvas - which reminded him of a rough war time of Korea - it was like reimagining a two-dimensional form with a three-dimensional thinking.

Since Blum & Poe has shown Ha’s work in the international stage since 2014, and Ha’s work feels relatively different from other artists’ works that the gallery usually shows, especially in art fairs, I was wondering which aspect of Ha’s work they think special. Here’s the answer.

“Ha Chong-hyun is a central figure in the development of postwar Korean art — from his early barbed wire works to the signature Conjunction series, he continues to push forward the dialogue around both historical and contemporary painting in Korea in new and meaningful ways.

He paints every day, and it is a special opportunity to be able to share the different directions coming out of his practice with a global audience by showing new work in the context of Art Basel Miami Beach’s OVR.”
— Patty Nam, Blum & Poe director

Yes, Ha’s new work has uplifting pastel colors which I haven’t seen before. “I am planning to do new works with different lines and colors that I haven’t tried before. I have looked one direction so far, but I want to fulfil my best self through other sides that I haven’t seen. My practice is still in process and it will also be like that in the future.” Ha recently said.

Blum & Poe showed 26 artists’ works that produced in this year’s lockdown, to remind an audience that human connectedness and new way of thinking is possible through art. Besides Ha Chong-hyun’s painting, as a front runner, works of New York based artist March Avery (b. 1932), Los Angeles based artist Tony Lewis (b. 1986) were also outstanding at the gallery’s section, in OVR: Miami Beach.

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Blum & Poe Los Angeles, New York, and Tokyo will be closed for the summer from August 14 through August 28.