The Korea Herald


Hakgojae Gallery dusts off works by forgotten artist Rhee Sang-wooc

By Park Yuna

Published : July 5, 2023 - 17:21

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"Work 74" by Rhee Sang-wooc (Hakgojae Gallery)

Galleries discover artists and show their work to the world, much like finding gems that have been left hidden for a long time.

Korean painter Rhee Sang-wooc is an artist whose work has received relatively little attention. Born in 1923 in Hamhung, in today's North Korea, Rhee left his hometown for Seoul a couple of years after South Korea's liberation from Japan.

"Nostalgia 76" by Rhee Sang-wooc (Hakgojae Gallery)

When the Korean War broke out in 1950, the artist remained in Korea, unable to travel to his hometown which became part of North Korea. His longing for his hometown is expressed on canvas with poetic geometric abstractions.

The exhibition “Rhee Sang-wooc: The Centenary” at Hakgojae Gallery in Seoul celebrates the 100th anniversary of the artist’s birth. Rhee passed away in 1988. The solo exhibition is the first in 26 years after a solo presentation at Ilmin Museum of Art in 1997, according to the gallery.

Rhee was one of the artists at the gallery’s first exhibition of the year. It showcased works by seven artists from the mid-20th century who embraced Western influence while, at the same time, attempting to eliminate the influence of Japanese colonial rule.

Abstract art dominated the post-war Korean art scene with the arrival of Art Informel in 1957 among Korean artists who began using layered materiality to express the ravages of Korean War. The art genre was followed by "dansaekhwa" in the late 1960s and the 1970s, which became Korea’s unique genre of abstract art.

An installation view of “Rhee Sang-wooc: The Centenary” at Hakgojae Gallery in Seoul (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald) An installation view of “Rhee Sang-wooc: The Centenary” at Hakgojae Gallery in Seoul (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

Some artists did not belong to either of the art genres of the time, pursuing their own unique art -- and Rhee was one such artist. Many of Rhee’s paintings feature calligraphic abstractions influenced by the Joseon-period Korean landscape painter, scholar and calligrapher Kim Jeong-hui (1786-1856).

The Hakgojae Gallery exhibition, running through July 29, shows some 48 paintings by Rhee. The gallery will present Rhee at the Frieze Masters section of the Frieze Seoul in September.

The gallery is concurrently showing “Lucid Mystery/Dark City,” an exhibition of 49 paintings by young Korean artists Kim Se-eun and Yoori, at the gallery's annex through July 29.