‘Sentimental journey’ through subconscious is gate to artist’s mind

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‘Sentimental journey’ through subconscious is gate to artist’s mind

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The Daelim Contemporary Art Museum, known for specializing in fashion and photography since it opened four years ago, has expanded its scope to include paintings and jazz music to appeal to the general public. The museum’s current exhibition, “Sentimental Journey” by Alfonso Huppi, includes an even wider swath of creativity ― 128 works in various genres and media ― from the Swiss-born artist’s prolific career.
Strolling into the museum, formerly a spacious residence, one first sees a highly graphic installation. Tall steel-and-glass frames are positioned to form a gate.
On the second floor, such intentional works are complemented by snapshots of accidental beauty the artist found traveling around the world ― postcard-sized photographs of various doors and gates taken with an instant camera in Iran, Armenia, Tunisia, Syria, France, Germany and Korea.
Inspired by wet pages of a book that stuck together, leaving the imprint of each other on each page, he drew “Gedichte von Hafis mit Zeichnung” (“Poetry of Hafis with Drawings,” 1997) accompanied by his own hand-written poetry.
Sketches and notes that accompany the work offer a peek into the lyrically sweet and private aspect of this soft-spoken 71-year-old artist. “The last book I wrote is about my family ― my wife and two children,” said Huppi, who visited Korea for the opening.
Other acts of creation had a similar serendipity. Huppi recalled dropping his camera while visiting old churches in Armenia. His images of the grandiose architecture came out blurry and completely out of focus. To express what he had felt in the churches, he made line drawings on the prints with a black marker. The artful combination of his humorous caricatures with a blurry backdrop of Christian imagery became a series of wall-size images on the third floor of the Daelim Museum.
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Distinctive European classicism in his modern works, he said, was influenced by encounters with frescoes by Tomaso Masaccio, a renowned Renaissance artist. He was deeply touched by the tension between what is considered real and unreal in Masaccio’s depiction of floating angels.
The sunny room on the top floor in the Daelim Museum holds a series of white blinds printed with a watercolor cartoon in Botticelli style. The use of white blinds that can be rolled up to remove the painting signifies that real-unreal tension in art. “The drawing can disappear, just like that,” Huppi explained with a quiet grin, pulling up and down the blind.
Or perhaps Huppi is just in his household period. “I’m working on chairs now,” he says, when asked what is coming next.
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The curator of the show said this choice of subject could only be explained by deep stirrings in the artist’s soul. “Huppi creates images from his subconscious,” said Ji Sang-hyeon, the curator of the exhibition.
“This quality is shared with the German artist Max Ernst, who pursued the ‘automatismus technique.’ Transcribing thoughts, devoid of reasoning, preconceived aesthetics and ethical values, automatismus has amplified the psychological aspect and the abstract formality in surrealist art works.”
Pen drawings are often spontaneous acts of subconscious thoughts or compulsive mental activities, said Ms. Ji. Paul Klee, Joan Miro and Yves Tanguy also embraced automatismus as the purest means of expression.
Clutching a digital camera and a dog-eared copy of “A Sentimental Journey” by Laurence Stern, Huppi moved slowly and spoke cautiously, at times looking obviously irritated by the reporters surrounding him. “I wish I were back in my atelier working on my art,” he said in German through an interpreter.
Since his first solo exhibition in Baden-Baden, Germany in 1964, Huppi never has ceased to be creative. From 1974 to 1999, he taught painting at the Academy of Arts in Dusseldorf and founded a museum in Etaneno to nurture up-and-coming artists.
To better understand his work, Huppi suggested that visitors read through dozens of catalogues of his poetry and a lifetime of visual works.
After the Korea exhibition, he is scheduled to show his works in Australia in May, Switzerland in July and Armenia in September.


by Ines Cho

The exhibition “Sentimental Journey” runs until April 9. Daelim Contemporary Art Museum is located near the West Gate of the National Museum of Korea in central Seoul. The nearest subway station is Gyeongbok Palace station, line No. 3, exit 4. For more information, call (02) 720-0667 or visit the Web site, www.daelimmusuem.org.
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