Abstract art you can really think about

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Abstract art you can really think about

“I have an interest in the invisible light, the light perceptible only in the mind ...” reads the introduction at the entrance to a chamber at the Ho-Am Gallery in downtown Seoul.
Beyond this message is a gaping black hole. You can’t go forward or backward, feeling trapped inside the pitch-black darkness. It’s deadly silent, and fear sets in. If you’re in a rush or too frightened, leave immediately. But if being there becomes calming, however strangely, then stay ― until you see “it,” whatever that “it” may be.
The experience of the artwork “What waits,” by the “artist of light,” James Turrell, is the ultimate, real-life test to measure your state of mind. According to Turrell, the “inner light” can be seen by those who seek it.
The exhibition “Mind Space,” organized by Samsung Museum of Modern Art and the JoongAng Ilbo, showcases artwork that employs the human mind as an artistic medium and as a subject. The exhibition features a dozen works by eight international artists, including Mark Rothko, James Turrell, Lani Maestro and Lee Mingwei, as well as Korean artists Kim Soo-ja and U Soon-ok.
This project has taken Ahn So-yeon, the senior curator of the Samsung Museum, three years to realize. She says the exhibition is particularly meaningful because it’s one of the biggest collections of talent to be brought in for a single show in Korea.
“The exhibition focuses on the mind, which has been forgotten or disregarded among contemporary artists,” Ms. Ahn says. “Modern art has been consumed by society, inundated with images of destruction, human physicality, materialism and mass media. Led by deconstruction and informel, isolation and frustration in modern society became the themes of major artistic works.”
The artists who engage in this kind of meditative art are rebuilding the relationship between human presence and their minds by restabilizing the lost sense of being. To attain that state of mind, abstract ideas and media are used: light, infinity, memory and healing. Visitors to their works are invited to meditate, rest and reflect upon his being in the world.
Wolfgang Laib says working on his project is his religion, and his way of working ― extracting bee pollen from fields of wildflowers ― distances him from the rest of the world. His installation in Korea is a walk-in chamber built from blocks of beehives. Inside the dimly lit room, one is overpowered by the unusual but somewhat familiar, honey-like odor and the sense of dislocation.
Lani Maestro, a native of the Philippines, uses natural materials found in her homeland. The first memory of the artist’s childhood is depicted in her work “Cradle,” a familiar yet empty space which exudes nostalgia and peace.
Lee Mingwei’s small booth creates a quiet space that feels more like a shrine. Visitors can kneel and write a letter, and letters will be collected to be either sent to the address written on the envelope or simply burned.
The Korean artist U Soon-ok is one of few Korean artists who has employed mind as a major theme of her works in the past. Her work “Warm Wall” entices visitors to feel and touch the warm, round curves of the wall, inspired by a pregnant body.

by Ines Cho

The exhibition runs until May 18. The Ho-Am Art Gallery is inside the Joong-Ang Ilbo Building, near City Hall in downtown Seoul. For more information, call (02) 763-9483. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesdays through Sundays. Admission is 4,000 won ($3.30) for adults, 2,000 won for students. Docent tours in English are available at 3 p.m. every Saturday.
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