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Lee Seung-Jio's first solo exhibition in Hong Kong on view at Perrotin
View of the exhibition « Nucleus » in Hong Kong, 2017. Photo: Ringo Cheung. Courtesy the Artist and Perrotin.

HONG KONG.- Perrotin Hong Kong is presenting Lee Seung-Jio’s first solo exhibition in Hong Kong, Nucleus. Born in 1941 in Yongcheon, a village in North Pyeong-An Province, Lee studied painting at Hongik University in Seoul and came to be known as “the pipe artist” or “the nucleus artist,” nicknames given by the first generation of art critics in Korea such as Lee Yil and Oh Kwang-Su. Nucleus is the title he gave to all the paintings he produced from his debut in 1963 until his death in 1990. He subtitled each painting according to its production year and sequence number, in a manner similar to Dansaekhwa artists. While he shared with his contemporaries an interest in abstraction, what particularly characterizes his paintings between the late 1960s and the mid-1970s, is his use of optical illusions to create tensional balance between two-dimensional flatness and three-dimensional illusion.1 This distinguishes Lee not only from his fellow Origin artists but also from Dansaekhwa artists such as Park Seo-Bo, Chung Sang-Hwa, Yun Hyong-Keun, Chung Chang-Sup, and Kwon Young-Woo. Lee’s paintings expose the reduction of abstract painting, highlighting flatness while at the same time giving a sense of visual and psychological tension to the nonrepresentational—accomplished through his use of vertical, horizontal, and diagonal bands and pipes. In other words, although Lee’s paintings are characterized as geometric abstraction, they also exhibit poetic and rhythmic dynamics as a result of the “movement, afterimage, and visual oscillation” between two-dimensionality and three-dimensionality.

This exhibition at Perrotin Hong Kong, focuses on his work of the 1970s and 1980s, the decades during which his interest transitioned from representing nucleus as objects with optical illusions to painting “non-material spatiality.”2 While Park Seo-Bo’s unceasing propositions of Écriture contributed to developing contemporary Korean abstract painting, Lee advanced geometric abstraction by adhering to nucleus as his unique visual language, with which he continued to reconcile the bridge between the pictorial surface’s two-dimensionality and three-dimensionality. Lee’s practice was to turn a pictorial space into a performative space on the two-dimensional, flat painting support. In his geometric abstraction, Lee was able to achieve an aesthetic distance from both Dansaekhwa and Origin artists by incessantly seeking to convey conflicting visual elements on his canvases. This distinct characteristic continued to appear in his Nucleus paintings for twenty-five years; it defines his distinct style.

Excerpt from “Lee Seung-Jio’s Geometric Abstraction: The Twenty-Five-Year Journey through the Nucleus” by Yeon Shim Chung, Associate Professor, Department of Art History and Theory, Hongik University.

Lee’s works have been exhibited at multiple prestigious galleries and museums, including at Gallery Hyundai, Seoul, Korea (2016); Gana Art Center, Seoul, Korea (2015); Daegu Art Museum, Daegu, Korea (2011); Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei, Taiwan (2010); Wellside Gallery, Seoul, Korea (2010); Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul, Korea (2004); Busan Museum of Art, Busan, Korea (2000); Total Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul, Korea (1996); and Hoam Gallery, Seoul, Korea (1991).

Lee’s works are included in the collections of major museums such as National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, Korea; Deutsche Bank, Seoul, Korea; Total Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul, Korea; Hoam Museum, Seoul, Korea; Hongik University Museum, Seoul, Korea; Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul, Korea; Hansol Group Co., Seoul, Korea; and Seoul Women’s College of Nursing, Seoul, Korea.

1 Oh Kwang-Su, “The Penetrating Sense of Composition: The World of Lee Seung-Jio,” in Lee Seung-Jio 1968-1990 (Seoul: Total Museum of Contemporary Art, 1996), p. 15. Founded in 1963, “Origin” consisted of a group of young artists in their 20s including Choi Myoung-Young, Suh Seung-Won, Lee Seung-Jio who were part of the 4.19 generation.

2 Lee Yil, “On Lee Seung-Jio’s Recent Work: Around His Sixth Solo Exhibition,” Lee Seung-Jio (Duson Gallery, 1987), n.p. The artist had his first solo show in 1973 at the age of 33 at Shinsegae Gallery, Seoul. Subsequently, he had solo shows at Myungdong Gallery (1975), Hankook Gallery (1978), Kwanhoon Gallery (1980), Mee Gallery (1984), and Duson Gallery (1987). After his death in 1990, Hoam Gallery organized his first retrospective exhibition in 1991. Writings on his work at time were mostly by critics Lee Yil, Oh Kwang-Su, and Kim Bok-Young, among others. Lee Yil’s writings focused on discussing the artist’s solo shows.

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