Yun Hyong-keun Retrospective | MMCA, South Korea

August 3 – December 16, 2018

Yun Hyong-keun

Curated by Kim In-hye

Born in 1928 in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province, Yun Hyong-keun lived through one of the most traumatic periods of Korean history, suffering great misfortune related to Japanese colonial rule, the Korean War, and the postwar dictatorship. Yun endured four political incarcerations, one for which he was sentenced to death by firing squad, miraculously escaping execution. Only after surviving these harrowing incidents did Yun fully commit himself to making art in 1973, at forty-five years old.

Upon dedicating himself to painting, Yun established his own distinct artistic world, which he called the "gate of heaven and earth." In the definitive series of works that he began in the 1970s, Yun used a wide brush to apply thick blocks of paint to canvases of plain cotton or linen, using deep blue (representing "heaven") and umber (representing "earth"). With these works, Yun succeeded in permeating the values of Korean traditional aesthetics with a lexicon of international contemporary art. 

Eleven years after his death, this exhibition explores Yun's life and art with unprecedented range and depth, introducing many details and perspectives that have yet to receive such attention. Most notably, the displays feature a wealth of personal materials that have never been publicly shown, including early drawings, a large archive of photos, and strikingly honest excerpts from Yun's private journals. The exhibition is filled with dark and poignant paintings that capture the shattered national psyche of their time, highlighted by the works that Yun furiously painted in the wake of the Gwangju Massacre (1980). In addition, one entire gallery contains a meticulous reproduction of Yun's actual atelier, including works by other artists (Kim Whanki, Choi Jongtae, and Donald Judd) and Korean traditional artifacts (furniture, porcelains, and calligraphy). Through such diverse materials, this exhibition comprehensively explores the life and art of Yun Hyong-keun, who has thus far been known primarily within the context of the Dansaekhwa movement in Korea.

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