The estate of Yoo Youngkuk, one of Korea’s most important and influential artists whose work has not been widely exhibited outside of his home country, has new representation. As part of a partnership, mega-gallery Pace and PKM, one of Seoul’s leading galleries will now be in charge of stewarding the late artist’s legacy, with PKM representing him in Korea and Pace doing so globally.
Both galleries will offer works by Yoo in their respective booths at Art Basel Hong Kong next week, and this fall, Pace will present the artist’s first solo gallery show out of Korea at its New York flagship in Chelsea.
Born in 1916 in Uljin, Yoo is among the most important Korean artists from the 20th century, with a nearly seven-decade career that began in the 1930s, when he moved to Tokyo to study art during Japan’s colonization of Korea. He received a degree in oil painting in 1938 and one in photography in 1940, and during this period he became associated with two artist groups — Neo Beaux-Arts Group and Jiyu Bijutsuka Group of Japan — who aimed to create a new avant-garde. He returned to Korea in 1943 and abandoned art-making for over a decade, working various jobs from a fisherman to at a soju distillery. After the end of the Korean War in 1955, he returned to painting.
Yoo’s art is defined by expressive exploration of color through abstraction and paired down forms. Preferring a palette of highly saturated colors, Yoo, who died in 2002 at 86, often created intense abstracted landscapes in which mountains appear pink or purple and geometric shapes and sharp lines seem to vibrate on the canvas. Having lived through the turmoil of Japanese occupation and World War II, followed by the Korean War, mountains represented for Yoo an enduring stability, formations that weather the elements for centuries — “the embodiment of nature and Korea itself,” as art historian Gabriel Ritter has written.
In a statement, PKM president Kyung-mee Park said, “The international collaboration between the two galleries will create great synergy in re-evaluating the first abstract artist of Korea, Yoo Youngkuk, from the perspective of art history and informing his unique aesthetic achievements to the world. We anticipate Yoo’s works will be more actively introduced in various museums and institutions around the world in the future.”
Though Yoo’s status as a canonical artist is well established in Korea, his art has not been widely shown elsewhere, particularly in the United States and Europe. Having been exhibited in the 1963 São Paulo Biennial and the 1967 Tokyo Biennial, Yoo’s art is included in some of Korea’s most important institutions, including the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA), the Seoul Museum of Art, the Daegu Art Museum, and the Leeum Museum of Art. In 2016, the MMCA presented a major survey on the artist and in 2020, Rizzoli published a monograph on the artist, edited by curator Rosa Maria Falvo.
In a press release, Pace compared the addition of Yoo to other artists on its program as proof of “its long history of supporting abstract and minimalist painters, such as Agnes Martin and Mark Rothko, and its long-standing championing of Korean artists, including Lee Ufan and Lee Kun-Yong,” adding that it underscores it commitment to Seoul, where it opened a new larger space last fall.
“We’re thrilled to work with PKM Gallery to bring Yoo Youngkuk’s extraordinary practice to our international audiences,” Pace CEO Marc Glimcher said in a statement. “Yoo began cultivating his revolutionary approach to abstraction in the 1930s, and his influential role in shaping modern and contemporary art in Korea cannot be overstated. It is a privilege to represent Yoo’s legacy as part of our program.”