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Abstract painter Choi Wook-kyung's pop art influence, experimentation revisited

Untitled 1960s abstract painting by South Korean artist Choi Wook-kyung (Kukje Gallery-Yonhap)
Untitled 1960s abstract painting by South Korean artist Choi Wook-kyung (Kukje Gallery-Yonhap)

South Korean painter Choi Wook-kyung (1940-1985) in a sense represented a unique amalgamation of abstract expressionism of her home country and the United States.

In an era when the field was dominated by political and populist art, Choi dug deeper into the realm of abstract expressionism after studying the works of Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell in America, leaving behind a legacy of signaling timely intercultural exchange between South Korea and the US.

Choi, whose hallmarks consisted of bold colors and complimentary contrast, also shined as a rare female talent in the Korean art world then occupied mainly by men.

Kukje Gallery, one of South Korea's leading art galleries located in central Seoul, opened a solo exhibition on Choi on Thursday focusing on her smaller yet groundbreaking experimental works from the 1960s through 1975.

The exhibition was held to celebrate the reopening of the gallery's main K1 building following a two-year renovation period.

The exhibit is divided mainly into two halls. The first gallery showcases Choi's signature use of color and abstraction as well as her innovative approach to collage.

According to curators, the first gallery encompasses a body of small paintings that serve as an extension of the diverse experimentation the artist undertook with the formal characteristics of black and white mediums.

Evoking Willem de Kooning's brushwork and Robert Motherwell's abstract yet meditative pictorial planes, collages, exhibited in tandem with the paintings in the first gallery, display the influence of pop art.

Among the first selection are works incorporating newspaper clippings and other media, which allowed for an artistic response to the pressing social issues during her time.

Curators said that this demonstrated "the artist's strong commitment to personal expression and social commentary through brave exploration of form and content."

The second gallery space features a comprehensive selection of Choi's drawings and prints showcasing her broad use of mediums, including ink, charcoal, conte and paper, while also displaying her frequent use of abstract lines and self-written texts on the paintings.

The ink drawings evoke the works of abstract expressionist Franz Kline, whose signature use of broad black strokes against a white background introduced a unique strain of gestural abstraction, as well as East Asian calligraphy.

Noteworthy in the second selection is the implementation of language, or text, on the canvas, attributed to Choi's interest in writing, as she authored multiple essays and published a collection of poems.

Being a female South Korean art student studying in America, Choi was in a unique situation to pursue undiscovered and exploratory paths in creating art, according to Kukje curators.

"Being caught between her ambition to reach beyond culturally specific movements in Korea and the social protest against patriarchy and racism in the United States, coupled with Choi's position as a foreigner and a woman, made it imperative that she confront the crux of such pressing themes by charting undiscovered paths and new genres," curators said.

The exhibition on Choi runs until July 31. (Yonhap)
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