Seoul exhibit highlights a master of marble

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Seoul exhibit highlights a master of marble

In the contemporary art scene in which electronic media predominate, marble is considered too hard to work with, if not archaic. But through his art, Pablo Atchugarry, the Uruguay-born sculptor, demonstrates that marble can be “modern” and even “fluid.”
The 20 works shown in Mr. Atchugarry’s solo exhibition at the Park Ryu Sook Gallery in southern Seoul are indeed surprisingly modern in form, exuding an intrinsic energy. Only upon close inspection do visitors realize that the organic creatures bearing lustrously creamy skin are marble.
Lee Jin-sook, the gallery’s curator, finds such “pure work of marble sculpture” very rare in Korea. “[His] works show constructivism inspired by South America’s Aztec civilization, and so there is a geometric element in a very classic medium,” Ms. Lee said.
Mr. Atchugarry, 50, was a painter who had his first exhibition at the age of 11, and he was heavily influenced by his father, Pablo, a leading Uruguayan constructivist painter.
But since he discovered exquisite Carrara marble in Italy in 1979 while traveling in Europe, Mr. Atchugarry has been fascinated with the material. His immediate association with his newfound medium was Michelangelo, his childhood idol.
“Marble was a popular medium in ancient art, which is found in old churches and historic sites, and I grew up admiring classical masters such as Michelangelo,” he said. “Even if it takes a lot of physical strength, time and money, I don’t see why artists can’t embrace marble as a new form in contemporary art.”
Each of the artist’s sculptures varies in tone, from ivory to cream to peach. They display a fluid-like form that is completely free, as if having been liberated from the constraints of one of the hardest materials in the world. Delicately carved multiple folds at various angles can be easily compared to fine wrinkles on silk fabric.
The digital generation might suspect the artist devises his concepts using a computer program, but he said he starts with pencil sketches made directly on the stone, thus producing a non-symmetrical design.
Mr. Atchugarry is particular in choosing the stone he plans to work on. “Each piece is different and has a personality of its own ― the size, shape, color and texture are different. That’s why I work directly with and on each piece of stone, and after carefully studying the natural pattern I just go along with it.”
Thus, the element of nature is inevitable in his work, which takes a minimum of three weeks for a medium-size piece. He interprets the stone’s natural flow as energy surging from a spring of life in the earth.
“The stone is static, but it has a movement that flows upward,” he said. “It is the sense of continuity I wanted to express through a material considered permanent and solid in the world of ephemeral values and forms of today.”
Although he regularly visits his homeland, Uruguay, Mr. Atchugarry has been based in Lecco, near Milan, in Italy since 1981. There, he says he can easily travel to the site of the famous Carrara marble.
Recognition of the artist’s fluency in Italian marble came in July 2002, when he received the prestigious Michelangelo Award in Carrara. In 2003, he represented Uruguay in the 50th International Exhibition of the Visual Arts at the Venice Biennale with a marble installation.
His name in the international art scene is marked by an exclusive clientele, including the prince of Monaco, Formula One racing billionaire Bernie Ecclestone, and the president of Italy, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

by Ines Cho

The exhibition runs until June 30. Park Ryu Sook Gallery is located at 117-41 Cheongdam-dong in southern Seoul. The gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. For more information call 02-544-7393.
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