Cutting-edge Korean art in New York
By Ming Liu
Korean art has made a global mark in recent years, appearing at galleries, art fairs and auction houses across the world. Now New York’s Lehmann Maupin gallery – which has been on the scene from the get-go – presents a must-see show of new work by notable artist Lee Bul from January 12 to February 11.
Comprising a series of multimedia pieces and immersive installations, the 52-year-old’s works ($50,000-$200,000) express the intrinsic contradictions between the human and the ideal, made tangible by a rich melding of materials. In the Willing to be Vulnerable collages, for example, Lee uses a paint made with fragments of mother-of-pearl on silk and leather canvases. The pieces are completed with PVC and acrylic panels, PET film and crystal, giving them a futuristic feel with an undertone of decay – a theme that first caught the public’s attention when MoMA exhibited Lee back in 1997.
Untitled (Willing To Be Vulnerable - Red Velvet #2) has a deliberately unfinished quality, and Lee employs the same technique in her striking triptych Untitled (Mekamelencolia - Yellow Velvet #1), which uses human hair and dried flowers to convey biological decay.
Of the two installations, Civitas Solis IV is an impressive mirrored piece, featuring small, illuminated metal sculptures, which riffs on a 17th-century novel, City of the Sun, by Italian philosopher Tommaso Campanella. Meanwhile, Souterrain, a tunnel-like space constructed from fractured mirrors and wood, draws on ideas of human promise, intrigue and imagination, yet – with a classic Lee twist – at the same time shows how such utopian ideals are unattainable, even oppressive.