Korean contemporary art The?hot list

Korean contemporary art: The?hot list

Christie’s senior specialist Yunah Jung introduces five artists whose radical ideas have critically affected the developments of contemporary Korean art since the 1990s — and all of whom featured in our November 2016 online sale K-Art Now!

  • 1
  • Suh Do-Ho

Suh Do-Ho (b.  1962), Sleepy Heads, 2010. Acrylic on paper, 41 x 50.8 cm (16? x 20 in). This lot was offered in K-Art Now!, 17-28 November 2016, Online

Suh Do-Ho (b. 1962), Sleepy Heads, 2010. Acrylic on paper, 41 x 50.8 cm (16? x 20 in). This lot was offered in K-Art Now!, 17-28 November 2016, Online

Suh Do-Ho has risen to become one of the most highly sought-after Korean artists internationally, capturing the art world’s imagination with monumental sculptures that recreate sections of his former homes in translucent fabric.

Known for exploring issues including cultural identity and individuality, the artist’s complex relationship with his native South Korea underpins much of his practice. Suh’s works are rich in autobiographical references, and traces of personal memories and experiences.

It is rare to find smaller works by the artist, such as the one above, and, as such, they always prove immensely popular with collectors. Coveted by both private buyers and public institutions, Suh’s work features in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and MoMA, among others. 

  • 2
  • Choi Jeong-Hwa

Choi Jeong-Hwa (b.  1961), Alchemy, 2016. Plastic, led lights and stainless steel, 218.5 x 33 x 33 cm (86 x 12? x 12? in). This lot was offered in K-Art Now!, 17-28 November 2016, Online

Choi Jeong-Hwa (b. 1961), Alchemy, 2016. Plastic, led lights and stainless steel, 218.5 x 33 x 33 cm (86 x 12? x 12? in). This lot was offered in K-Art Now!, 17-28 November 2016, Online

A leading light of Korea’s art scene since the ’90s, Choi Jeong-Hwa has become renowned for his own brand of brightly coloured kitsch, creating sculptures and installations from found objects and plastic products, all made in his home country.

Unlike many of his peers, Choi approaches traditional Korean culture with a sense of humour, coupled with a philosophical sensibility. Buddhism is a recurring influence, emerging in artworks as repeated units, which reference the disciplined regimes of monks. The mix of references led one of Korea’s most renowned critics to describe Choi as ‘a wicked Buddhist monk who creates phantasmagoria’. 

  • 3
  • Ham Kyung-Ah

Ham Kyung-Ah (b.  1966), Abstract Weave  Morris Louis Beta Zeta 1960-61, 2014. Machine embroidery on cotton, thread on wooden frame, overall 155 x 192 cm (61 x 75? in), wooden frame only 110 x 192 cm (43¼ x 75? in). This lot was offered in K-Art Now!, 17-28 November 2016, Online

Ham Kyung-Ah (b. 1966), Abstract Weave / Morris Louis Beta Zeta 1960-61, 2014. Machine embroidery on cotton, thread on wooden frame, overall: 155 x 192 cm (61 x 75? in), wooden frame only: 110 x 192 cm (43¼ x 75? in). This lot was offered in K-Art Now!, 17-28 November 2016, Online

Ham Kyung-Ah works across an incredibly broad range of media, exploring installation, video, performance, painting and sculpture. Though diverse, her finished works share a compelling beauty, undercut by powerful political messages. 

The physical and ideological distance between North Korea and Ham’s native South Korea is a recurrent subject. Weavings such as the one above feature stitching from unknown workers in the North, commissioned through a series of complex, illicit, and occasionally fruitless cross-border communications.  

Ham’s work has been exhibited internationally at institutions including the British Museum, the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, and Vienna’s Stiftung Ludwig Wien. 

  • 4
  • Lee Dongi

Lee Dongi (b.  1967), Atomaus, 2016. Acrylic on canvas, 90 x 90 cm (35½ x 35½ in). This lot was offered in K-Art Now!, 17-28 November 2016, Online

Lee Dongi (b. 1967), Atomaus, 2016. Acrylic on canvas, 90 x 90 cm (35½ x 35½ in). This lot was offered in K-Art Now!, 17-28 November 2016, Online

Lee Dongi first appeared on Korea’s art scene in 1993, and has since become synonymous with his character Atomaus — a combination of the Japanese animated character Atom and Mickey Mouse, created as a witty response to globalisation and Korean popular culture. 

Today, Lee is recognised as a pioneer of Asian Pop Art, having been critical to its development in Korea. His vibrant works take inspiration from mass culture in all its forms — from cartoons to fashion, film and music. Tirelessly experimental, his most recent pieces display a new level of technical skill and conceptual depth. 

Lee has been the subject of a number of solo exhibitions worldwide, in cities including Amsterdam, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Beijing and Seoul. 

  • 5
  • Ham Jin

Ham Jin (b.  1978), Untitled #8, 2015. Polymer clay, glue and wire, 32.6 x 28.5 x 29.5 cm (12? x 11¼ x 11? in). This lot was offered in K-Art Now!, 17-28 November 2016, Online

Ham Jin (b. 1978), Untitled #8, 2015. Polymer clay, glue and wire, 32.6 x 28.5 x 29.5 cm (12? x 11¼ x 11? in). This lot was offered in K-Art Now!, 17-28 November 2016, Online

Ham Jin attracted the attention of the art world following his very first solo exhibition in 1999, where he presented his now-signature miniature figures. Since then, his acclaim has continued to grow, and he is now recognised as one of the most accomplished young sculptors in Korea.

Often no larger than a fingernail, Ham’s fantastical sculptures display remarkable technical virtuosity. Primarily created from synthetic clay, these miniature marvels often incorporate detritus from everyday life, and can be as beautiful as they are dark and disturbing. 


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