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Seven experts provide thorough look at dansaekhwa

June 18, 2015 - 19:45 By Lee Woo-young
“Dansaekhwa”/By various authors (The Grenfell Press) 

Amid the emerging interest in Korean monochrome paintings in the global art world, an in-depth examination on Korean abstract art has been published in English this week.

The book titled “Dansaekhwa,” written by multiple art experts, traces the roots of the Korean monochrome painting movement called “dansaekhwa” and its historical context and developments in ideas and expressions. It also offers individual examinations of seven leading dansaekhwa artists: Chung Chang-sup, Chung Sang-hwa, Ha Chong-hyun, Kim Whan-ki, Kwon Young-woo, Lee Ufan and Park Seo-bo.

The 323-page book begins with a comprehensive introduction to dansaekhwa written by Lee Yong-woo, director of the Shanghai Himalayas Museum and former president of the Gwangju Biennale Foundation.

Dansaekhwa refers to a form of painting that emerged among early modern Korean artists after the Korean War in the middle of the 20th century. The first generation modern artists led the avant-garde art movement in Korea, defying the conservative and corrupt National Exhibition, then a shortcut to artistic success.

These first generation modern artists developed distinctive painting styles that now define the simple and meditative images of dansaekhwa paintings. Artists such as Lee Ufan, Park Seo-bo, Kwon Young-woo and Ha Chong-hyun each developed different methods for simple expressions. What’s common in their painting styles is the “restrained use of colors” and simple aesthetics derived from Korean landscape images and characteristics.

Artist Ha Chong-hyun pushed paint from the back of the canvas until it oozed from the front. Artist Park Seo-bo drew repetitive pencil lines on a white-colored canvas.

The book contains in-depth research of individual leading dansaekhwa artists by global art experts, including Alexandra Munroe, curator for Asian art at the Guggenheim Museum; Melissa Chiu, director of the Smithsonian’s Hirschhorn Museum; Joan Kee, art history professor at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor; Chong Do-ryun, chief curator of M+ Museum in Hong Kong; Jeremy Lewison, former director of collections of Tate; and Mika Yoshitake, assistant curator at the Hirshhorn Museum.

The book also features an essay on dansaekhwa by Korean curator Yoon Jin-sup, who first coined the word “dansaekhwa,” as well as the transcript of the dansaekhwa symposium held in parallel with the dansaekhwa exhibition at Kukje Gallery in 2014.

It concludes with a timeline of Korean art history with a specific focus on dansaekhwa development, as well as major historical events in Korea and short biographies of major dansaekhwa artists.

The publication marks the current dansaekhwa exhibition Venice held as a collateral exhibition of Venice Biennale. The exhibition, co-organized by the Boghossian Foundation, Kukje Gallery and Tina Kim Gallery, is an extensive survey of dansaekhwa paintings shown for the first time outside Korea. It runs until Aug. 15.

By Lee Woo-young (