Yun Hyong-keun: Biography

One of the most significant Korean artists of the twentieth century, Yun Hyong-keun (1928-2007) was born in Miwon-ri, Chungcheongbuk-do, Korea and received his BFA from the School of Fine Arts at Hongik University, Seoul, in 1957. During the 1960s, he became associated with the influential Tansaekhwa (monochromatic painting) movement of Korean artists who experimented with the physical properties of painting and prioritized technique and process. The scarcity of materials following the Korean War (1950-1953) and the country’s relative isolation from the international art world led the artists to construct their own sets of rules and structures in relation to abstraction.  

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.

Yun has been the subject of solo exhibitions at prominent institutions worldwide, including the Total Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul (1994); Stiftung für konkrete Kunst, Reutlingen, Germany (1997); Art Sonje Museum, Gyeongju, Korea (2001); and Musée d’Art moderne et contemporain de Strasbourg (2002). Other notable solo exhibitions have been held at Inkong Gallery, Seoul (1989); Locks Gallery, Philadelphia (1991); Galerie Humanité, Nagoya, Japan (1991-1992; traveled to Galerie Humanité Tokyo; Gallery Suzukawa, Hiroshima, Japan; and Gallery Yamaguchi, Osaka, Japan); Jean Brolly Gallery, Paris (2002); Blum & Poe, New York (2015); and PKM Gallery, Seoul (2015 and 2020). In 2018, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul hosted a major solo exhibition of the artist’s work that traveled to the Palazzo Fortuny, Venice (2019).


His work has been included in the São Paulo Biennial (1969 and 1975); the 46th Venice Biennale (1995); and the Gwangju Biennale (2000). 


Work by the artist is represented in permanent collections internationally, including the Art Institute of Chicago; Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas; Fukuoka Art Museum, Japan; Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland; Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul; National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea; Tate, London; and Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum.


Since 2016, David Zwirner has represented the work of Yun Hyong-keun in New York. The artist’s second solo exhibition with the gallery was on view in New York in 2020.


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