What is Dansaekhwa?
Dansaekhwa is an art movement born in South Korea in the 1970s. The pioneers of Dansaekhwa are born between 1913 and 1936 and avoided any reference to Western realism in their works, creating primarily monochrome and minimalist paintings. The artists also attempted to break away from the heritage of Japanese imperialism and Western abstraction. Dansaekhwa is deeply involved with the physicality of painting. Some of them based their work on traditional Korean ink portraits, and used traditional Korean materials such as Hanji paper.
Dansaekhwa has had a breath of new life, thanks to the efforts and talent of Octogenarian artists that stuck to this art style. Now, dealers, art fair organizers, museum curators and collectors can breathe a sigh of relief because what has been neglected for close to half a century has come to the public limelight. It was at a time of political strife and dictatorship1 that this painting technique sprouted. While the art had been practiced as a movement for all this time, it would not be until two years ago that the West got wind of its existence.
Lee Ufan’s role
Well, not quite, because in 2006, the leader of the movement, Lee Ufan, left Korea for Tokyo and since then his work had been exhibited at the Pace Gallery in New York and Lisson Gallery in London. It was after an auction where one of his paintings fetched a price of $140,000 that Lee would become a celebrity in the world of monochromatic art creation. Later in 2014, Lee broke his own auction record2 when he gained $2.2 million in art sales.
The rise of Dansaekhwa
Inevitably, Lee’s success saw the rise of other artists who had come to associate themselves with the Dansaekhwa movement. Many of them originated from South Korea and while they were relatively successful there, the reputation of Lee would catapult them to international fame. Over the course of the last two years when Dansaekhwa had become known, many Western art exhibitions have showcased their work. Case in point is the effort by Katharine Kostyal of the White Cube gallery who had just returned from an exhibition at the Venice Biennale that deeply impressed her, came back and persuaded a leading Dansaekhwa artist in London, Park Seo-bo, to provide her with enough works to constitute his first exhibition in London.
Months before his work was shown at the White Cube, Park would be impressed when one of his most popular collection, the Twombly-esque Ecriture paintings sold for $1.2 million. In the years following 2013, Dansaekhwa would capture the scholarly attention of writers. Joan Kee was one of those who took the time to study the work and discussion around this Korean art style as written in the University of Minnesota Press. Today shows in the United States, South Korea, China and beyond contribute to sparking interest in Dansaekhwa.
Artists – The pioneers of Dansaekhwa
- Chung Chang-Sup (1927 – 2011)
- Chung Sang-hwa (b. 1932)
- Ha Chong-hyun (b. 1935)
- Hur Hwang (b. 1943)
- Kim Guiline (b. 1936)
- Kim Whanki (1913-1974)
- Kwon Young-woo (1926 – 2013)
- Lee Dong-Youb (b. 1946)
- Lee Ufan (b. 1936)
- Quac In-sik (1919-1988)
- Park Seo-bo (b. 1931)
- Rhee Seundja (1918-2009)
- Yun Hyong-keun (1927-2007)
- Youn Myeung-Ro (b. 1936)
Exhibition photos: ‘Korean Abstract Art: Kim Whanki and Dansaekhwa’ at Powerlong Museum, Shanghai, 2018-2019
Korean Abstract Art – Kim Whanki and Dansaekhwa with works by Chung Chang-Sup, Chung Sang-Hwa, Ha Chong-Hyun, Kim Whanki, Kwon Young-Woo, Lee Ufan and Park Seo-Bo at Powerlong Museum, Shanghai, 2018-2019
Selected works by Dansaekhwa artists
Chung Chang-Sup (정창섭)
Chung Sang-hwa (정상화)
Chung Sang-Hwa uses a continuous method of incorporating and removing paint to accomplish his works. He contributes various layers of paint and interwoven pieces of wax and clay in Chung’s “rip” and “fill” method, which are torn off to produce a grid-like composition.
Born in 1932 in Yougduck, South Korea, before learning in Paris and Tokyo, he joined the Seoul National University School of Fine Arts. Graduating from Seoul National University’s oil painting faculty in 1956, Chung first collaborated in Korean informer’s then-prevalent style. He moved to Paris in 1967, at the time considered the center of the international art world by the Korean art community.
The works of the artist are included in the collections of the Chicago Art Institute, the Washington D.C. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the National Museum of Contemporary and Modern Art in Seoul, Korea, and the Abu Dhabi Guggenheim Museum. Chung presently resides and operates in Seoul.
Ha Chong-hyun (하종현)
Ha Chong-Hyun rose to prominence in the early 1970s with his series Conjunction. These early studies resulted in him to construct his signature style, pressing the paint from the back to the hemp cloth front. He has continuously tested material and creative studio procedures to redefine the function of painting, playing an essential part in bridging the avant-garde traditions between East and West.
Committed to redefining modern art and dismissing scholarly mainstream patterns, Ha created a method that transformed abstract works into physically challenging studio procedures. Ha extended his habit of turning three-dimensionality into a two-dimensional surface. He has frequently experimented with new techniques of adding materiality and quantity to color.
Ha Chong-Hyun relates to his painting technique as bae-ap-bub (back-pressure method) and shows his defiant stance towards pre-existing painting methods with a purely delineated front of the painting. Ha poignantly depicts the challenges faced by Korean culture in the twentieth century, and his dedication to resist Western influences and create a fresh, genuine voice.
Hur Hwang (허황)
Kim Guiline (김기린)
Kim Whanki (김환기)
Kwon Young-woo (권영우)
Lee Dong-Youb (이동엽)
Lee Ufan (이우환)
In the late 1960s, painter, sculptor, writer, and philosopher Lee Ufan became one of the leading theoretical and practical advocates of the avant-garde group Mono-ha (Object School). The Mono-ha school of thought was the first internationally recognized contemporary art movement in Japan. It dismissed Western concepts of depiction, concentrating on the interactions of objects and views rather than on speech or intervention.
In 1991, Lee Ufan started his Correspondence painting series, consisting of just one or two gray-blue brushstrokes. Those strokes are produced up of a blend of oil and crushed stone pigment and then applied to a large white canvas. Equally minimal is his sculptural series Relatum: each work consists of one or more light-colored round rocks and dark, triangular iron sheets. The connection between the stone and iron mimics the dialectical relationship between the brushstroke and canvas.
Lee’s work often explores the boundaries between doing and non-doing. At the core of Lee Ufan’s training resides the connection between painted/unpainted and occupied/empty room. Lee Ufan was born in Kyongnam, South Korea, on June 24, 1936.
Quac In-sik (곽인식)
Park Seo-bo (박서보)
Park Seo-Bo is a Korean painter. His work combines the ethos of traditional Korean culture with the structured language of linear abstraction. Park is best recognized for his large-scale minimalist pictures.
He uses a range of methods with an exercise that is both meditative and brutal, such as sewing hemp on a canvas spread over junkyard metal. Park has also been boiling and eroding the surface of his paintings with blowtorches and chemicals.
“While my pictures may be a cultural concept, the primary focus is on nature,” he said. “I want to decrease my work’s concept and emotion to convey just that. I want to decrease and reduce — to generate sheer emptiness.”
Born in Yecheon, South Korea in 1931, he researched until 1954 at Seoul’s Hong-Ik University. Park’s work was widely met with critical praise. Some of his works are in the collections of important institutions such as the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, and the Museum of Modern Art in Saint-Étienne.
Rhee Seundja (이성자)
Youn Myeung-Ro (윤명로)
Yun Hyong-keun (윤형근)
All images by the artists unless otherwise noted.
The books about Dansaekhwa
- Joan Kee: Contemporary Korean Art – Tansaekhwa and the Urgency of Method, 20133
- Kukje Gallery: The Art of Dansaekhwa, 20154, Foreword by Hyun-Sook Lee. Texts by Yoon Jim Sup, Alexandra Munroe, Sam Bardaouil, and Till Fellrath