Art center in fine "Form"

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Art center in fine "Form"

GOYANG, Gyeonggi -- The requirements for a good party are simple: good food, good music, good company, good setting.

Lee Bok-hyung, a former ambassador to four Latin American countries, had that formula down last week when he hosted a fiesta at the the Latin American Culture Center he founded, which is in Goyang, a city about 30 minutes south of Seoul by car.

Despite the center's remote location, it atrtracts many visitors year-round with its rolling lawn, outdoor sculpture garden and brick buildings filled with Latin American art.

May 10 was certainly no exception; the party was for the Venezuelan sculptor, Victor Salas, who is living in Seoul, and his new exhibition, "Form." As dusk fell, the Latin American community enjoyed live music, paella, grilled tacos, Valencia oranges and a tour of the site.

"Form" is an indoor exhibition of 26 works. It runs to June 10. Outside, Mr. Salas's work "Solar Archangel" stands guard at the sculpture garden. "Mr. Salas donated this piece last winter in the name of the Venezuelan Embassy," Mr. Lee said. "This show is a materialization of Victor's dreams to exhibit in Korea and our commitment to him."

For more information, call 031-962-7171.

After moving to Korea, kinetic sculptor keeps moving right along

"Here, touch this," Victor Salas says.

The Venezuelan sculptor is standing in front of "Transformarvel," one of his sculptures on exhibit at the Latin American Culture Center.

He pulls up the middle section of the white aluminum design, and "Transformarvel" changes from a face to a man's torso.

Mr. Salas, 54, walks downstairs to "Construction," a design made of steel and aluminum tubes stacked on top of each other. He sits on his heels, then pries two sections apart. A loud sound rends the air, but seconds later the shape of "Construction" has changed from a thin diamond to a fat diamond.

By this time, well-wishers at the opening of his exhibition are excitedly asking if they can try. Mr. Salas smiles and encourages them.

Mr. Salas was born to a craftsman in Caracas. In his mid-20s, Mr. Salas saw the works of Venezuelan kinetic artists such as Jesus Soto and Cruz Diez and Argentinians such as Julio Le Park and Gyula Kosice, and something clicked.

"I liked the idea of moving sculptures," Mr. Salas says. He enrolled at the Cristobal Rojas School of Fine Arts, where he studied the greats, and went on to co-found the Venezuelan Research Center for Contemporary Fine Arts.

Mr. Salas's works are driven by precision, but it is not a cold precision. He is very curious about light, shapes and colors, and eager to engage the public.

His collection invites viewers to step closer and rearrange shapes or spin squares and circles, which is what kinetic art is about -- art in motion.

Two years ago, Mr. Salas's wife, Eleonora Pulido, a diplomat, was assigned to a post in Korea. Mr. Salas decided to follow her here.

The language barrier has been a hindrance, he says, but has not undermined his ability to create. He now uses Korean materials, saying the cutting methods in Korea are very precise.

The center provides a studio space for him and a Chilean artist. And now, finally, he has a solo show in Korea. "My motto is perseverance," he says.

Here Mr. Salas talks about his work, his motto and what he wants to accomplish in Korea.

Q : What do you enjoy most about the Korean art scene?

A : The traditional dances with their many colorful decorations.

What is your work about?

About incorporating the public into the artwork in a visual and tactile fashion.

Who are your favorite artists?

The plastic artists Gyula Kosice from Argentina; Francisco Sobrino from Spain; Jesus Soto from Venezuela and Jacob Agam from Israel. I like classic composers in general, especially Chopin and Verdi. And the Venezuelan painters Chino Hung, Jacobo Borges, Tito Salas, Reveron, Michelena and Antonio Luque.

Which living person do you admire the most?

The guru Maharaji from India.

Where do you find your inspiration?

In outer space.

What is your idea of happiness?

That I can sell my work so I can keep creating more.

What is your greatest fear?

I have none.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Reaching my actual age, 54.

By the time you leave Korea, what do you hope to have done here?

To leave one of my projects, of which I have a scale model, in great dimensions somewhere in Seoul.

Ex-diplomat's retired life is muy bueno

Just after sunrise on a recent weekday, Lee Bok-hyung mowed his lawn -- a job that takes two hours.

For the 71-year-old former ambassador, maintaining the Latin American Culture Center is a labor of love. In summer, there's flooding. In fall, leaves need raking. In winter, snow needs shoveling. In spring....

"My wife and I, we're wearing our bones out," Mr. Lee says. "But we have a great sense of achievement."

When the couple bought this 19,800-square-meter plot of land in 1970, they were getting ready for Mr. Lee's distant retirement. But as time passed, the land took on a different purpose.

"In 1967, we started collecting Latin American handcrafts and wall hangings for our home," Mr. Lee says. When Mr. Lee was posted in Costa Rica in 1974, the collection became serious. He got to know local collectors; he'd find them a Korean antique, they'd find him a Latin American artifact.

By 1993, he had worked in the Dominican Republic, Argentina, and Mexico, and had amassed 25,000 items, from masks to terra cotta sculptures to colonial paintings. Mr. Lee knew he would retire at the end of that year. He gathered his family and told them he wanted to create a public foundation on the land. The vision, he says, was "to thank Latin America and create a place where Koreans can learn about Latin American culture."

A museum was established in 1994. A gallery was added in 1997, a sculpture garden in 2001. The Korean Ministry of Culture voted the center the No. 1 private museum of 2001. Mr. Lee said his next step is to create a recreation area behind the sculpture garden where students can picnic. Even with a construction and maintainence crew there, Mr. Lee will surely help out.

He calls this type of retirement "a wonderful, flourishing life."

by Joe Yong-hee

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