The artist Lee Kun-Yong, a crucial figure in the development of Korean avant-garde art, is now represented by Pace Gallery. It is a global deal with the powerhouse firm, which has nine international locations, though Lee will continue to work with Gallery Hyundai, of Seoul, and Leeahn Gallery, of Seoul and Daegu. His third show with Pace, after outings in Beijing (in 2018) and Seoul (2019), opens in Hong Kong on Friday.
Lee, who is 80 this year, was a founder of the influential Space and Time group, which was active in South Korea throughout the 1970s, years that the artist spent forging a practice of venturesome performances and mark-making in relation to his body, sometimes combining those two interests. For his best-known works, he stood behind, above, or to the side of panels or canvases, and made bewitching strokes that chart the limits of his reach. These “Bodyscape” pieces have been exhibited extensively in his homeland, but only rarely beyond it. “He is a superstar in Korea, but now we also have to promote him abroad,” Youngjoo Lee, Pace’s senior director in Seoul, said in an interview.
The Hong Kong show, which runs through March 3, will feature his paintings, plus video recreations of two key actions from the ‘70s which he performed in front of people hundreds of times, “anytime, anywhere,” Youngjoo Lee said.
These pieces carry an extra charge when seen in the context of the era’s authoritarian politics, marked by a dictatorship and martial law. For instance, Relay Life (1979), which Lee presented at the Bienal de São Paulo and the Daegu Contemporary Art Festival, involved him placing his belongings on the ground, his shirt and pants included, and then laying facedown—a “self-inflicted strip search,” as the art historian Joan Kee has termed it.
Looking ahead, Lee’s work—which has also taken the form of installation and sculpture—will be included in the hotly anticipated survey of Korean experimental art from the 1960s and ‘70s that is being jointly organized by the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in South Korea.