The Korea Herald

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Avant-garde artist Jung Kang-ja gets recognition at home and abroad

By Park Yuna

Published : Jan. 2, 2024 - 19:43

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"Self Portrait with Dragon" by Jung Kang-ja (Estate of Jung Kangja and Arario Gallery)

Jung Kang-ja is one of the few female artists who led Korean experimental art that flourished in the 1960s to 1970s. Yet, the artist remains relatively unfamiliar to many.

Arario Gallery sheds light on the artist’s path, presenting some 70 works in Shanghai and Seoul. The exhibition in Shanghai titled “Jung KangJa: Life Goes On” gives a glimpse of Jung’s path from the 1980s to 2000s, showing many of the works that were inspired by the artist's travels across South America and Africa.

After her debut solo show “Incorporeality” in 1970 was forcibly closed by the authoritarian regime, which labeled her as a "rebellious artist," Jung spent many years abroad. Upon returning to Korea in the 1980s, she created works for over four decades. Although she did not receive proper recognition in the Korean art scene, she dedicated her life to art until her passing at 75 in 2017, according to Arario Gallery.

An installation view of “Jung KangJa: Life Goes On” in Shanghai (Arario Gallery) An installation view of “Jung KangJa: Life Goes On” in Shanghai (Arario Gallery)

“We aimed to introduce the artist to collectors in China because many of them would not be familiar with her name. Along with her paintings, we put the artist's signature installation, ‘To Repress’ created in 1968, to highlight her contribution to Korea’s avant-garde art in the 1960s to 1970s,” an official from the gallery told The Korea Herald. Arario Gallery’s exhibition in Shanghai runs through Jan. 6.

Jung is one of the artists featured at the Guggenheim Museum exhibition “Only the Young: Experimental Art in Korea, 1960s-1970s” that opened in New York in September 2023.

Arario Gallery presented the artist in Seoul last year at art fairs as well as her solo exhibition, “Jung Kangja: It Has Always Been the Beginning,” which ran through Dec. 30, 2023, showing some 40 works.

The exhibition in Seoul focused on Jung’s late paintings from 1995 to the 2000s, showing how she took a turn toward abstract and transcendent forms in the late years -- some of the works show motifs symbolizing the traditions of her homeland such as reinterpreting hanbok, the traditional Korean attire.