The natural and the artificial mesh for Swiss-Korean artistIt was the time to strike out on her own, and Park Kyung-mee had been waiting for the moment for years. She had just finished her brief stint as commissioner of the Korean Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, the city’s international exhibition of contemporary art, and came back to deliver her own vision for modern art in Korea. Ms. Park had organized exhibitions as a director of the prestigious Kukje Gallery in Seoul, and writes columns for mainstream Korean newspapers and art magazines. Her stint in Italy had allowed her to present on the world stage Korean artists, who were able to use the event as an important platform to jump-start their career.
Shortly after the Biennale, she established PKM Gallery (yes, those are her initials), a two-story all-white building in Hwadong, northern Seoul. But a gallery is nothing without a distinctive image for its art, and Ms. Park needed to find works she has put on display that would give the gallery’s atmosphere a uniquely vibrant hue.
Currently showing at the gallery is the exhibition “Shelter,” which is a collection of 22 oil paintings by the 28-year-old Korean-born artist Noori Lee.
At age 16, Mr. Lee moved to Switzerland, where he studied car design at the Art Center College of Design, and then moved on to study fine art at Frankfurt University. His artwork reflects his experience in interior and fashion design.
Ms. Park discovered Lee one year ago while browsing an art magazine and was immediately interested in the obscure young artist’s work. Mr. Lee by that time was a promising artist in Switzerland; he had been featured in exhibitions in galleries and museums.
She sent him an e-mail message indicating her interest, and Mr. Lee responded.
The two met for the first time in December 2004 at PKM, and Ms. Park quickly became his representative in the Asian market.
“When I first saw his portfolio, he had a rich world within, in spite of his short career,” Ms. Park said. “He was a highly skilled painter with a strong artistic persona. He had a great potential as a big artist in the future.”
One of the oil paintings, “Calling,” depicts a person’s home. Ms. Park said that the work itself could be a realistic depiction of how classic oil paintings should look: a cluster of free-style colors splashed onto the surface, allowing viewers to partake in a refreshingly modern fantasy and stirring their imagination. The exaggerated contrast between the turquoise blue sky and the green grass gives the painting an otherworldly feeling.
Otherworldly, but also tense ― the everyday structures shown provide a sharp contrast.
“I think the word ‘shelter’ has a dual resonance,” Mr. Lee said. “ It can easily be regarded as a passive place where you are protected and kept safe when inside, but when you’re standing from the outside, you become an aggressive voyeur.”
The artist also depicts insides of houses and buildings, whose images he finds in magazine pictures rather than through direct observation. One example is his painting, “Void.”
“Void” depicts a disorderly room overgrown with plants and flowers that have burst from vases and gardens, and where the furniture is stationed at the most peculiar of places. The room itself, however, is linear and angular, sharpening the contrast with the plantlife.
The modern twist is that the majority of Mr. Lee’s works are painted on aluminum plates instead of canvas. He said canvas soaks up moisture and particle-board has fragile edges that can be easily damaged when the piece is moved. By using aluminum, he can keep the painting glossy and the frame razor sharp. The result is an eerie aura, like looking at a glossy photo of a painting.
“It was initially from [director Stanley] Kubrick movies that I first realized that architecture can have a certain psychology in itself,” Mr. Lee said.
Ms. Park believes Mr. Lee’s individualistic approach will appeal to international collectors. Later this month at London’s Frieze Art Fair, PKM will be exhibiting works by Mr. Lee, along with those by other Korean and American artists she represents ― Bae Joon-sung, Ham Jin, Bruce Nauman and Jorge Pardo.
by Ines Cho
Reporting by interns Cho Jae-eun and Kim Kyoung-mo.
The exhibition runs until Oct.1. PKM Gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 5:30 pm from Monday to Saturday. The gallery is located on 137-1 Hwadong in northern Seoul. The nearest subway station is Anguk station, line No. 3, exit 1. For more information, call 02-734-9467 or visit www. pkmgallery.com.
Interview : Sleek, glossy and modern: aluminum art
The IHT-JoongAng Daily spoke with Park Kyung-mee at PKM Gallery about her vision for Korean artists.
Q. What did you see in the works by Noori Lee, an artist virtually unknown in Korea?
A. In the 90s, artists were into conceptual and installation art, having felt frustrated that the classic realm of fine art was too confining. Oil paintings, for one, had been ignored by artists. Artists are now returning to the basics, just as other artistic genres in society have rediscovered the classic medium.
Any discerning eye can appreciate Noori Lee’s uniquely personal approach to contemporary art. Lee employs canvases made with unpolished aluminum panels on most of his medium-size paintings, although he does use regular canvas for wall-size paintings. Aluminum is not new. Artists like Gehard Richter used it, but in the past, aluminum was used in abstract or sculptural context. Unlike canvas’s fabric-like texture, aluminum gives ultra-smooth, sleek finishes that look like photographic prints. If you look at the paintings from the side, they’re very different from canvas paintings. Sharp and glossy, very modern.
What do you write about in your columns?
I cannot stand writers who get sentimental about falling leaves. My writings are logical and analytical. I feel that it’s my responsibility to analyze what art is in society. I’ve written on the recent boom in the art market and art marketing in Korea.
Art marketing is new in Korea, but outside Korea, a number of projects have promoted more than two genres of art. Prada, for example, commissioned Rem Koolhaas to design the entire New York boutique in 2001. Louis Vuitton had the Japanese artist, Takashi Murakami, reinvent its logo in bright colors. This year in Korea, luxury fashion brands, such as Tod’s and Loewe, promoted Korean artists. That’s art marketing.
Do you think Korean artists have a future in the international market?
I hope they will, but unfortunately the demand for Korean artwork is far less than the demand for Chinese and Japanese art. Avid collectors and investors [outside Korea] will buy out an entire show on Chinese art, because Westerners are fascinated by China and its culture. Korean artists cannot benefit internationally from such national prestige. At this year’s Venice Biennale, miniature works by a Korean artist, Ham Jin, received rave reviews, and all his work has been sold out. But it doesn’t mean that collectors will buy out all things Korean. Appreciation of Korean artwork is more individual than collective.
As a private curator and gallery president now, I’m not just interested in young artists, but mid-career artists, as well as foreign artists. My struggle is to balance the market demand and my personal support needed for an artist to develop his or her own strengths in the long term.