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Contemporary Korean Art

Tansaekhwa and the Urgency of Method

2013
Author:

Joan Kee

Contemporary Korean Art

The first in-depth examination in English of twentieth-century Korea’s most important artistic movement

A crucial artistic movement of twentieth-century Korea, Tansaekhwa (monochromatic painting) also became one of its most famous and successful. In this full-color, richly illustrated account—the first of its kind in English—Joan Kee provides a fresh interpretation of the movement’s emergence and meaning that sheds new light on the history of abstraction, twentieth-century Asian art, and contemporary art in general.

This book provides a comprehensive overview of the most controversial and influential artistic movement in contemporary Korean art. With detailed formal analysis on the important artworks and locating them within the broader historical and intellectual framework, Joan Kee vividly portrays how Korean artists responded to the international art world and positioned Tansaekhwa as an alternative to Euro-American art. Contemporary Korean Art makes essential reading for anyone interested in the non-Western artists’ negotiations to global art in the twentieth century.

Insoo Cho, Korea National University of Arts

Starting in the mid-1960s, a group of Korean artists began to push paint, soak canvas, drag pencils, rip paper, and otherwise manipulate the materials of painting in ways that prompted critics to describe their actions as “methods” rather than artworks. A crucial artistic movement of twentieth-century Korea, Tansaekhwa (monochromatic painting) also became one of its most famous and successful. Promoted in Seoul, Tokyo, and Paris, Tansaekhwa grew to be the international face of contemporary Korean art and a cornerstone of contemporary Asian art.

In this full-color, richly illustrated account—the first of its kind in English—Joan Kee provides a fresh interpretation of the movement’s emergence and meaning that sheds new light on the history of abstraction, twentieth-century Asian art, and contemporary art in general. Combining close readings, archival research, and interviews with leading Tansaekhwa artists, Kee focuses on an essential but often overlooked dimension of the movement: how artists made a case for abstraction as a way for viewers to engage productively with the world and its systems. As Kee shows, artists such as Lee Ufan, Park Seobo, Kwon Young-woo, Yun Hyongkeun, and Ha Chonghyun urgently stressed certain fundamentals, recognizing that overwhelming forces such as decolonization, authoritarianism, and the rise of a new postwar internationalism could be approached through highly individual experiences that challenged viewers to consider how they understood their world rather than why.

Against the backdrop of the Cold War, decolonization, and the declaration of martial law in South Korea, these artists asked questions that continue to resonate today: In what ways can art matter to the world? How does art exert agency when its viewers live in times of explicit or implicit duress? How can specific social and political conditions inspire or influence methods and styles?

Awards

Finalist, 2014 Charles Rufus Morey Book Award

Contemporary Korean Art

Joan Kee is assistant professor of art history at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Contemporary Korean Art

This book provides a comprehensive overview of the most controversial and influential artistic movement in contemporary Korean art. With detailed formal analysis on the important artworks and locating them within the broader historical and intellectual framework, Joan Kee vividly portrays how Korean artists responded to the international art world and positioned Tansaekhwa as an alternative to Euro-American art. Contemporary Korean Art makes essential reading for anyone interested in the non-Western artists’ negotiations to global art in the twentieth century.

Insoo Cho, Korea National University of Arts

“...this book offers a fastidiously constructed history of Korean art and politics from the 1950s to the 1990s and beyond.”

“Rich in analysis and description, Kee’s book traces the development of Korean painting and issues of national artistic identity as a reflection of the country’s economic growth and political turmoil over the past five decades. This pioneering, generously illustrated tome deserves a place in every serious collection of books about modern art in Asia.”

ArtAsiaPacific

Kee does an excellent job of placing Tansaekhwa artists in context, giving the reader a greater understanding of how the artists fit into contemporary Korean art and the international art world. Readers who are not familiar with Korean history will be well-served by the historical context that the author provides.

Art Libraries Society

Contemporary Korean Art

Contents

Note to Readers

Introduction: The Urgency of Method

1. Kwon Young-woo and Yun Hyoungkeun Rethink Painting

2. Rates of Exchange in Ha Chongyun’s Conjunction

3. Encountering Lee Ufan in Korea and Japan

4. Reading Park Seobo’s Écriture in Authoritarian Korea

5. Tansaekhwa and the Idealization of Asian Art

Epilogue: The Contextualist Predicament


Acknowledgments
Appendix: Korean Names and Terms
Notes
Index