Yun Hyong-keun

August 4, 2018–February 6, 2019

Featuring some sixty works and fifty archival pieces, this major retrospective of Yun Hyong-keun’s work at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) in Seoul explored the life and work of the influential Korean artist who gained early recognition abroad. Although Yun’s work has been exhibited widely, including in France and the United States, where Donald Judd showed his paintings in the early 1990s, this was Yun’s first presentation at a national institution in Korea.

Organized into four sections curated by Kim In-hye, this show traced Yun’s creative development from early works made in the 1960s and early 1970s, to the realization of his "gate of heaven and earth" principle in the 1970s, and the late paintings of the 1980s and 1990s, which represent the culmination of his lifelong pursuit of simplification; a final archival section is designed to provide a window into the artist’s worldview.

In addition to sixty paintings, the exhibition at MMCA featured extensive personal materials that had never before been shown, including early drawings, archival photographs, and excerpts from the diary Yun began keeping in 1975. A full gallery space was given over to a detailed reproduction of the studio the artist used for the last twenty-four years of his life, itself part of the house in Seoul’s Seogyo-dong neighborhood that he had built from his own designs. A recreation of Yun's living room featured a display of related works by artists such as Kim Whanki, Choi Jongtae and Donald Judd, and pieces of Korean furniture, porcelain, and calligraphy as well as personal mementoes that give further insight into Yun’s enduring spirit and creative mission.

Following its initial presentation in Seoul, the exhibition traveled to Palazzo Fortuny in Venice from May 11–November 14, 2019

Using a restricted palette of ultramarine and umber, Yun created his distinctive compositions by adding layer upon layer of paint onto raw canvas or linen, often applying the next coat before the last one had dried. He then diluted the pigments with turpentine solvent, allowing them to seep into the fibers of the support, staining it in a similar way to traditional ink on absorbent paper. Working directly on his studio floor, he produced simple arrangements of intensely dark, vertical bands surrounded by untouched areas. The division was softened by the blurred edges caused by the uneven rates of absorption of oil and solvent, and the compositions often developed over several days, even months, with the artist adding further layers or letting the pigments bleed out gradually.

Yun visited New York in 1974, where he encountered the work of American postwar artists including Mark Rothko, which led him to further explore ways to divide pictorial space. His paintings from the mid-1970s and the 1980s revolve around a play between presence and absence, with unmarked areas characterized as intervals rather than dematerialized voids. The inherent physicality of his works, in turn, impressed artists such as Donald Judd, who invited Yun to exhibit at his spaces on Spring Street in New York and in Marfa, Texas (Chinati Foundation) during the 1990s in what would be the artist's first solo presentations in the United States.

Today, Yun's work has come to embody the intersecting traditions of Korean scholarly painting and twentieth century abstract art. His intellectually sophisticated, yet understated works transcend the regional themes and materials of his generation to resonate with a global history of contemporary art.

This exhibition will bring together an unprecedented selection of large-scale paintings, many of which have never been shown before. While each work represents an accumulation of Yun's procedures over time, collectively they testify to his lifelong commitment to breaking painting down to its core methods and materials.

Yun Hyong-keun's work has been the subject of solo and group exhibitions worldwide. The artist's estate is primarily represented by PKM Gallery in Seoul. In addition to David Zwirner in New York, Blum & Poe in Los Angeles, Simon Lee Gallery in London, and Axel Vervoordt Gallery in Antwerp show the artist's work.

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