Gay artists explore their identities in two solo exhibitions
Korea is known as a conservative country and is said to be generally apathetic about or hostile toward LGBTQ culture. There are few LGBTQ artists and celebrities who have self-disclosed their sexual orientations. However, in recent months, some gay artists are actively making their presence known to the public through exhibitions about their identities.
Among them are two remarkable solo shows of young gay artists in their 30s. They are Park Grim’s “Horo, Becoming a Tiger〈Seoul〉” at Studio Concrete in Hannam-dong, Seoul, and Choi Ha-neyl's "Bulky" at the Arario Museum in Space near Changdeok palace in central Seoul.
Park Grim’s “Horo, Becoming a Tiger〈Seoul〉”
The paintings by Park, now on view at Studio Concrete, celebrate not only the artist’s identity but also exquisite art technique, which was an essential virtue for an artist in the times of old masters but, since the emergence of modern art, has often been neglected or intentionally refrained from.
His paintings in the “Shimhodo” series, inspired by the style of Buddhist art from the Goryeo period (918-1392), have the charms of the Goryeo paintings such as elegantly flowing lines, elaborate details, mystic hues and luminosity which were achieved by repeatedly applying pigments to both the back and front of silk. He majored in Buddhist art in university and created taenghwa, or Buddhist altarpieces, for several temples.
“Shimhodo – Chosen”(2018) is the first of the series and “a kind of teaser” for the series’ main story of the artist overcoming his “self-hatred” by reincarnating as a tiger – his artistic persona, according to Park. The painting shows a tiger cub, depicted slightly grotesque but adorable in the style of paintings from the Joseon period (1392-1910), held by two elegant Bodhisattvas depicted in the style of Goryeo’s paintings of Gwaneum, or Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva. Avalokitesvara is known to have fluid gender.
“In fact, my self-hatred resulted from being not so attractive in the gay community, in which appearances tend to be taken seriously, rather than my identity as a sexual minority,” Park told the Korea JoongAng Daily at the art space on Sunday. “I started with painting some stars of the gay community. But as I had conversations with them, I realized that they are not so different from me.”
Then, he started the “Shimhodo(which translates as “the painting of searching for a tiger”)” series inspired by a genre of Buddhist painting called “Shimudo(the painting of searching for an ox),” which is an allegory of people searching for their own nature or mind.
Beside “Shimhodo – Chosen” hangs a spectacular, large-scale painting “Shimhodo – Amrita”(2021) which depicts the tiger, the artist’s new self, hunting down and then eating the heart of his old self. On both sides of the painting are depicted Dongjin, a young warrior Bodhisattva. Interestingly, the two Dongjin are modeled after two of the artist’s friends — promising young artist Choi Haneyl on the left and actor and “Hellbound” star Yoo Ah-in on the right.
In addition to the “Shimhodo” series, there are also paintings that depict the tiger as the artist’s persona. “The overall structure of the show can be broken down into the following four categories/chapters: the Shimhodo series, the Zero-Cogitation-Samadhi continuum, The Tiger of Perfect Wisdom and the X-Tail/Tale series, which respectively discuss the themes of reincarnation, self-awakening, self-affection and loving others,” Ahn Jae-woo, art critic and curator of the exhibition, explained.
The exhibition runs through March 27. Admission is free. For details, visit www.studio-ccrt.com
Choi Haneyl's "Bulky"
Choi Haneyl, who appears in the painting by Park, is currently one of Korea's young artists attracting the most attention. In his solo show at Arario Museum in Space, he focuses on his double minority identity as a gay man and as a sculptor in the Korean art world.
The artist said in a press preview last September, “I feel that sculptors, in particular, those who create large-scale sculptures like me, are minority in Korea,” because museums focus more on “immaterial art such as media art” nowadays and local collectors still prefer paintings that are good to hang in their apartment homes.
“Accordingly, I want to strengthen the presence of both queer art and sculpture through fusing them in my works,” the artist said. The exhibition’s title “Bulky” suggests his intention. The process of build up sculptures, in other words, adding chunks of materials, is reminiscent of the struggles of many men in the gay community to be “bulky” or muscular, he said.
Choi’s sculpture series "Bulky_sex (combine)" and "Bulky_fusion" wittily suggest the “gayish” aspects of ordinary things, activities and popular culture that the artist found in everyday life. For example, watching matches of Japan's jiu jitsu and Korea's ssireum, the artist saw “the two human bodies being combined into one big mass” and decided to portray them in his sculptures with “a queer imagination."
Another sculpture titled “He can't forget those memories” is also interesting, as the rectangular sculpture with traces of bondage suggests “sadomasochistic role-playing” as the artist explained but also looks like a parody of Minimalism sculpture.
The exhibition runs through March 6. Admission is 15,000 won ($12.50) and covers the permanent exhibition of the museum. For more information, visit www.arariomuseum.org
BY MOON SO-YOUNG [email@example.com]