Kwang Young Chun at Bernard Jacobson Gallery

Filed in Reviews by on March 20, 2014

Kwang Young Chun

Bernard Jacobson Gallery

12 March to 19 April 2014

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Kwang Young Chun was born in 1944 in what is now South Korea and had his earliest artistic education there. However, he took his MFA degree at the Philadelphia College of Art, during the 1960’s, when he was in his 20’s. The 60’s and 70’s in the USA were times of radical social and artistic change, in which, according to Chun’s biography on his website,  he found himself to be, as a migrant from a very different culture, “a ‘social, ideological’ alien in this new world”.

In the midst of all this cultural alienation, confusion and social turmoil, Chun found himself becoming immensely attracted to Abstract Expressionism, the first genuinely modernist art movement to emerge in the USA. It seems that most of his work since then has been an attempt at a personal and artistic reconciliation of  the energy of Abstract Expressionism with his Korean culture and background.

In 1973, Chun began working on a series of works (or, perhaps more precisely, a series of series of works) which he titled Aggregations. This exhibition comprises recent works which (with one exception) are among the latest in that series.

Although these works are wall hung, they are three-dimensional, being manufactured using arrangements of similarly shaped but variously sized blocks of Styrofoam on a two-dimensional frame, each block being wrapped in traditional Korean mulberry paper, taken from books and other printed material. The wrapping of objects is itself of significance in Korean culture apparently, where it represents good fortune. There are, no doubt, depths of meaning and significance in these works which are lost on those of us who cannot read the Korean text, yet despite this, the synthesis of Eastern and Western artistic styles and preoccupations is both obvious and extremely effective.

Despite the adoption of such apparently minimalist basic building blocks, the variety of forms which Chun achieves is very impressive. If there is an element of minimalism in the work, it is more indicative of Eastern reverence for simplicity and nature rather than the hard-edged near-nihilism associated with many minimalist artists. While Chun’s starting point may have been abstract expressionism, his work is actually quite lyrical and the use of colour and texture is frequently naturalistic. There is a wide variety of colours and shades in these works but they are always used in a way that is pleasing and harmonious. On close examination, the skill and ingenuity shown in their construction is very evident. The way that Chun uses colour to alter the perception of space and shadow, and the arrangement of blocks themselves to alter the perception of colour is also extremely satisfying. These are beautiful objects, but they are a great deal more than that.

The Bernard Jacobson Gallery is a space that is ideally suited to showing Chun’s work. The basement gallery, in particular, is an ideal place to spend some time contemplating and enjoying it. Alone there on a Tuesday afternoon, I realised that I was having that feeling of quiet spiritual contemplation which I have been told I should have experienced in the presence of the paintings of Mark Rothko but never did. It is a shame that the exhibition is coming down on 19 April as that room is one I could happily return to time and time again.

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John Kavanagh

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John Francis Kavanagh is the founder and editor of Artists Insight.

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