Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Korean Minimalism Is the Next Big Art Market Trend

A Surging Auction Market Points to Korean Minimalism as the Next Gutai

Left: Park Seo-Bo, Ecriture (描法) No. 23-77. 1977. Right: Park Seo-Bo, Ecriture (描法) No. 19-78, 1978. © the artist. Photo © White Cube (George Darrell).
With its repetitious distinct strokes and monochrome palette, South Korean painter Park Seo-Bo’s first British solo exhibition, at White Cube Mason’s Yard, bears a passing resemblance to the gridded canvases of American abstract minimalist Agnes Martin.

But while the similarity might be superficial—given the artists’ disparate backgrounds—the collision of these two cultures has had profound recent repercussions in the art market. Ahead of the White Cube opening this week, a key dealer noted that primary prices for Park and related artists have surged by up to 200% since September 2014. It is part of an ongoing fascination with Dansaekhwa (also transliterated as Tansaekhwa)—translated literally as “monochrome painting”—a loose group of Korean artists who are increasingly popular among buyers seeking underappreciated work to complement existing collections.

This week, Los Angeles’s Blum & Poe opens “Dansaekhwa and Minimalism,” what the gallery calls the first survey of Korean monochromatic painting with American Minimalism, featuring work by Park, Martin, and Sol LeWitt. In February, Seoul space Kukje Gallery will present a solo exhibition by Chung Chang-Sup, another leading Dansaekhwa artist, and will also team up with the Boghossian Foundation on a group show of Dansaekhwa at the historic Villa Empain in Brussels, the first major show of its kind in Belgium.

“I think it’s inevitable that at the moment there is a general interest on the part of dealers and collectors to look at work by artists who have gone underappreciated and undervalued for a long time,” said Katharine Kostyal, curator of the White Cube show, “Ecriture 1967-1981.” “[It is a] move away from this obsession with the new, and always buying the latest youngest artist, and mining recent history.”
Park Seo-Bo, Ecriture (描法) No. 6-67, 1967 © the artist. Photo © White Cube (Ben Westoby)
According to historical auction data, paintings from Park’s “Ecriture” series dated to the 1970s, of a comparable size to some work featured in the White Cube show, sold at auction as recently as December 2014 for $55,432. A work of a comparable size and date sold in November 2015 for $838,633. Auction records for key Dansaekhwa artists including Park, Chung Sang-Hwa, Yun Hyong-Keun, Chung Chang-Sup, and Kwon Young-Woo have all been broken in the last four months.

Kostyal attributed much of the credit for this to the Korean galleries who have “done an enormous amount to promote this group of artists to bring their work to greater attention.” Hyun-Sook Lee, founder and chairwoman of Kukje said that when her gallery opened in 1982 “there was no domestic art market in Korea,” but since the 1990s, when international art made inroads, she has “been looking forward to the right opportunity to introduce modern Korean artists” to an international audience. The gallery achieved this partly through a much-praised Dansaekhwa exhibition at the Venice Biennale last year, a joint effort with the Boghossian Foundation and New York’s Tina Kim Gallery. “We expect that interest in the movement will only continue to grow in 2016,” said Kim in an email.
Such attention comes after decades of neglect. As Guggenheim Museum curator Alexandra Munroe wrote in an essay on the occasion of a 2014 Dansaekhwa show at Kukje, “Dansaekhwa has long been recognized as one of the most influential art movements in the history of contemporary Korean art…but it is only recently that the movement has sparked new attention abroad.” In part, she puts this down to the “return of abstract painting” mirrored by other recent rediscoveries of abstract art trends including Japanese Gutai and Europe’s Zero movement, both of which experienced market booms. According to a September 2015 article in the New Yorker, Dansaekhwa “has several advantages over Gutai, including abundance,” and is advantageous because it is relatively affordable as an alternative to Western minimalism and its artists continue to make work, create almost exclusively painting, and have strong art historical pedigrees. 
Left: Ha Chonghyun, Conjunction 14-116, 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo. Right: Kwon Young-woo, Untitled, 1984. Courtesy of the Estate of Kwon Young-woo and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.
“Everyone of [Park’s] generation was profoundly affected by the horrors of the Korean war,” said Kostyal. “He chose, as his colleagues did as well, almost to turn his back on the world and make art that was fundamentally introspective. It was a healing process for them. And that’s partly because there was very little expectation that these works would have a very large audience.”
Looking forward to this year, as this resurgence has shown, the market is notoriously hard to predict. Is there much left to do? “It’s still difficult for people,” said Blum & Poe co-founder Tim Blum. “It’s not like it’s being absorbed quickly. Not everyone knows about it by any stretch of the imagination. [But] it’s heading in that direction.”

A spokeswoman for Blum’s gallery highlighted a 100-200% increase in primary prices since September 2014 for Park, Ha Chong-Hyun, Chung Sang-Hwa, Yun Hyong-Keun, and Kwon Young-Woo, though Blum said that the large number of recent exhibitions for the most popular members of the group might be considered “overly eager.” From now on, he added, “it comes down to distinguishing what’s what, the quality.”
—Rob Sharp

“Park Seo-Bo: Ecriture 1967-1981” is on view at White Cube Mason’s Yard, London, Jan. 15–Mar. 12, 2016.

“Dansaekhwa and Minimalism” is on view at Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, Jan. 16–Mar. 12, 2016.

When Process Becomes Form: Dansaekhwa and Korean abstraction in the 1970's and 1980's” is on view at The Boghossian Foundation, Brussels, Feb. 20–April 24, 2016.
Chun Chang-Sup is on view at Kukje Gallery, Seoul, Feb. 26–Mar. 27, 2016.

Why Are There So Many Great Women Video Artists?

A Brief History of Women in Video Art

In the 1960s, following the post-war advent of television in America, video cameras became available to consumers and quickly found their way into the hands of the international art scene. Lauded as the grandfather of video art, Nam June Paik was one of the very first to employ the technology, in 1963, with his Galerie Parnass show “Exposition of Music: Electronic Television”—and was soon followed by a slew of innovators like Vito Acconci and Peter Campus, who experimented with video in the early ’70s.
Unlike traditional mediums, however, this one wasn’t dominated by men. In video, women found a form free from the male-dominated canon, in much the same way that performance art provided unchartered territory for experimentation. Pioneering women like Valie Export and Joan Jonas quickly adopted the new technology, and today they are celebrated for their trailblazing legacy that paved the way for tenacious artists like Diana Thater, Shirin Neshat, and Sarah Morris. Now, a new generation of female artists including Rachel Rose, Chloe Wise, and Kate Cooper is building upon this rich history with bravado. Here, we take a look at how and why women became leading innovators of the digital medium.
Female performance artists of the 1960s and ’70s—including Hannah Wilke and Martha Rosler—were some of the first to adapt to video, using the medium to record and preserve their work. The relative portability of the aptly named Portapak (pioneered by Sony and used by many early video artists) made it easy to use for documentation and experimentation.
Austrian artist Valie Export grabbed headlines with works, like Splitscreen-Solipsismus (1968)—an 8mm film depicting a boxer fighting against himself—that wittily played with the medium’s formal qualities. Arguably Export’s most groundbreaking piece was Facing a Family (1971), which aired on Austrian television and showed a nuclear family watching TV and eating dinner. Through this mirror image of the TV-watching public, she disturbed the relationship between content consumer and creator in a way that pushed boundaries left unexplored by even most avant-garde cinema.
But it was Joan Jonas’s Vertical Roll (1972), in which she jarringly interrupted the video’s electronic signal while she performed in front of it, that really moved the dial, blending mediums and technologies. A fitting contemporary foil to Jonas’s Vertical Roll can be found at the New Museum, where artist Wynne Greenwood’s show “Kelly” focuses on her complete archive of performances as members of her “female band,” Tracy and the Plastics. Greenwood created the series by performing in front of a video projection, effectively allowing her to simultaneously perform as all three of the band’s members.
As Conceptual, Feminist, and Body Art movements developed during the 1970s, video represented a powerful new opportunity to resolve and represent the complex issues that were being surfaced by those crossover genres. Building on Andy Warhol’s earlier “Screen Tests,” starring green-lit personalities like Edie Sedgwick and Lou Reed, artists like Dara Birnbaum toyed with cinematic conventions on their own terms—which in her case meant mining the comic book Wonder Woman.
In her epic Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman (1978-1979), Birnbaum appropriated imagery from the television show adaptation to reflect on the cultural discourse embedded in the feminine superhero. Video also allowed feminist artists like Export and Birnbaum to reach wider audiences (both artists have had their works appear on television channels).
As the sophistication of video technology increased, so did artists’ familiarity with it—and they soon took to the edit button, distorting and manipulating footage, as well as lacing it together with other forms of art. Doris Totten Chase, who received early support from Nam June Paik in the 1970s and ’80s, began using computers to add effects to her light-filled dance performances. Her early riffs on these then-cutting-edge techniques paved the way for artists like Meriem Bennani, who inserted analogue animations into her online videos. Jennifer Steinkamp also experimented with animation in the 1980s, and her bursting trees and digitally fabricated florals have been shown around the world.
In the ’90s, Diana Thater—who currently has a retrospective at LACMA—stood out from the crowd with landmarks like OO FiFi, Five Days in Claude Monet’s Garden, Part 1 and Part 2 (1992), which she shot at the estate of the late artist before deconstructing the footage into video’s red, green, and blue (RGB) components. And Surrealist video artists Pipilotti Rist and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster garnered attention thanks to ambitious projects transforming everyday happenings into masterpieces.
Pickelporno (1992), in which a surveillance camera sweeps over a fornicating couple, won Rist notoriety as well as accolades for its strange take on the sensual. Gonzalez-Foerster’s installations collaged video together with architecture and design to create unique and immersive environments. And Sarah Morris combined the graphic painter’s eye for patterns with the perspective of the documentarian in the early 2000s with films like AM/PM (1999), Capital (2000), and Miami (2002).
In the late ’90s and early 2000s, Sharon Lockhart and Shirin Neshat continued in this documentary-style vein with eyes on different parts of the world. For Lockhart, far-flung locations like Japan’s Goshogaoka neighborhood interested her as much as the bucolic life of children in the Sierra Nevada Mountains that she captured in Pine Flat (2005). Neshat’s politically inclined films like Turbulent (1998) and Rapture (1999) intimately examined issues of gender and power in the Muslim world. And partners and sisters Jane and Louise Wilson similarly probed the narratives latent in our social and political environments with works like Gamma (1999), a Turner-Prize-nominated piece filmed at an abandoned U.S. military base.
As in the 1960s, women video artists continue to chase new avenues of expression and embrace an increasingly complex world both online and off—with innovators like Camille Henrot and Hito Steyerl leading the pack.

—Kat Herriman

Cover image: Joan Jonas, Double Lunar Dogs, 1984. Image courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix.