Korea seems to be on everyone’s mind, especially art collectors and dealers. The Korean art market undeniably gained momentum throughout the year 2016, having become the 10th largest in the world, according to Artprice.com.
International buyers at auction are helping artists from the Dansaekhwa movement achieve increasingly high prices for their works. Their soaring success can perhaps be explained by the globalisation of Korean culture — consider how K-pop and Korean cuisine have infiltrated the mind, TVs and high streets of various countries.
I got in touch with seasoned Korean art consultant and artist Rachel Lee about the evolution of the Dansaekhwa movement and what makes it unique. Here are six things you need to know about these sought-after artists and their influence on Contemporary Korean art.
- Issues of Korean identity – confusing Confucianism
After the Korean War, many questions arose about Korean identity. Korea became a strict society, as the country reinforced the concept of Confucianism borrowed from China, providing the people with a homogeneous identity. Many artists were therefore uncertain who they were outside the rules of society. This marked the beginning of the artistic expression of Korean artists as they struggled to answer this question.
- Arrival of the 1970s — a movement of “self-discipline”
The Dansaekhwa movement emerged in the 1970s, as this group of artists attempted to find a solution to the question of their identity. Consequently, their work was more about “self-discipline,” according to Rachel Lee. What differentiated this pioneering group from Western art was its focus on “internal expression” rather than visual expression, with the result that their body of work was particularly experimental. It was the era of flicking dots of paint (à la Pollock) on the canvas, or pouring paint and spreading it without a brush.
- Dansaekhwa — “landscape of the mind”
Eventually, this became the first generation creating modern art in Korea. Among the many record-breaking artists at auction today are early Dansaekhwa artists like Park Seo-bo, Lee U-fan, Kim Hwan-ki, Quac In-sik, Chung Sang-hwa, Chung Chang-sup, Yun Hyong-Keun, and Ha Chong-hyun. This group visualized the “landscape of the mind,” as the concepts found within this movement encompassed spirituality, tactility, and performance.
- Themes of politics took over in 1980
In 1980 a significant trend emerged, named Minjung, meaning “people” in Korean. Alongside their self-exploration, artists began questioning the country’s leadership. As Korea sought to become more mature in terms of its democratic situation, Korean artists wanted to express their feelings about freedom under the country’s strict dictatorship. Consequently, in 1980, many artists created works addressing this sociopolitical issue.
- 1988 — a pivotal moment for Korean art
After the Korean Olympics in 1988, it was a time of progress for Dansaekhwa. These artists were being exhibited internationally, especially in Britain. In addition, there was a lot of movement outside of Korea by scholars and students. Many young artists travelled and studied abroad, which resulted in the emergence of new ideas and perspectives. They started to scrutinize what they were taught to believe in. This heralded the beginning of postmodern art.
- Korean art now – Dansaekhwa’s influence
The Dansaekhwa movement has significantly influenced contemporary Korean art. The main artistic concepts today still revolve around Dansaekhwa’s topics of existential questioning and discipline, in addition to Korean society and traditional rites. The many themes found in Korean contemporary art continue to centre on issues of hierarchy and social structure, as well as self-discipline.
Traditional values versus contemporary consumerism and advertising are explored, including problems of identity due to increasing globalism. Finally, the growing influence of Koreans on the rest of the world in such areas as pop art, music, and performance is also portrayed in their work.
You can view my original article here on Blouin Artinfo.