Lee Seung Taek's 'Non-Art: The Inversive Act' on view at National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art

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Lee Seung Taek's 'Non-Art: The Inversive Act' on view at National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art
Lee SeungTaek's Non-Art: The Inversive Act, exhibition view at MMCA Seoul. Photo: MEDIASCOPE. Image provided by MMCA.

SEOUL.- The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea unveiled Lee Seung Taek's NonArt: The Inversive Act at the MMCA Seoul.

Lee Seung Taek (b. 1932) is a representative figure in Korean experimental art who continued to produce works of art spanning installation, sculpture, painting, photography, land art, and performance art since the 1950s until today. Lee Seung Taek's Non-Art: The Inversive Act is a large-scale retrospective that aims to revisit the sixty-year career of Lee, who has played a pioneering role in transforming the Korean contemporary art scene with his unique artistic values.

The title of the exhibition, Lee Seung Taek's Non-Art: The Inversive Act encapsulates the artist's artistic career during which he challenged fixed notion of art and inverting every kind of object and idea. His artistic views are well expressed in his statement: "My view was inverted. My thought process was inverted. My life in this world was inverted." They are also well expressed in his concept of "non-sculpture," through which he challenged the established grammar of sculpture.

This exhibition also attempts to reexamine the works of Lee Seung Taek who has built on a unique artistic world of his own by ceaselessly traversing the boundaries of art versus non-art, materials versus non-material as well as subject verses object. Lee's major works from the 1960s are revisited to explore Lee's works produced in the early stages of his career while newly shedding light on the shamanistic values entailed in his overall art world. Shamanism was the beginning of the world of non-sculpture where Lee moved away from the modern sculptural concepts of the West towards the world of heterogeneity deemed by him as "inversive." The exhibition also sheds light on many of Lee's works that utilize the photographic medium dating back to the early days of his career, and in particular Lee's "photo picture," a combination of photographs with other paintings, through which the artist’s inversive aesthetics can be newly revisited.

At Exhibition Hall 6, Lee's innovative experiments with forms towards "non-structure" is reproduced through the themes of "experiments with materials," "tying and deconstruction" and "formless works." Focusing on experiments on new materials - traditional earthenware, vinyl, lumber, coal briquettes and other everyday objects - from the 1960s, Lee began to move away from the concept of sculptural materials that have been widely perceived across the artistic scene at the time. Beginning from around the 70s, he began his attempts to create works incorporating nonmaterial factors such as wind, fire and smoke into his artwork, which was dubbed as experiments of "formless works." In addition, Lee employed a new perspective on the unique meaning and values of objects through his "tying" series, where he began tying objects such as stones, female torsos, books, old documents, paper money with twines. His continued artistic experiments and challenges against conventional art had been conceptualized as "non-sculpture" by around 1980s.

Based on the large number of Lee's iconic "tying" series produced from the 1950s to 80s as well as exhibition archives of the time, this retrospective newly sheds spotlight on the artist's initial experiments by reproducing Lee's major artworks of the 60s including and Growth(Tower) (1964) and Untitled (1968). It also sheds light on the original piece of Wind showcased during the second A.G. Exhibition - Reality and Realization in 1971, Wind (also known as paper tree) of 1980s as well as the monumental Wind series in a multifaceted way through large-scale installation, photograph and video.

Since the mid-80s, Lee began to expand his area of interests to include life-related aspects including society, history, environment, religion and gender, as well as shamanism, and expanded his work scope to include performance, large-scale installations and photography. The works displayed at Exhibition Hall 7 and Media Lab, are put on show under the themes of "Life, Society and History," "Action, Process and Painting," as well as "Shamanism and Non-Sculpture at the Crossroad." Through Untitled (1994) and Fratricidal War (1994) whose themes are the division of Korea and the Donghak Peasant Revolution, one can come across Lee's true aspects as both an avantgarde artist and a historian. Earth Play (1991~2000s), which is a series produced while traveling across Korea, Japan, China, Germany and many other countries, entails a message of recovering the ecosystem by remedying damaged nature and reviving the planet Earth. The exhibition also examines the artist's paintings, where he highlights his actions, process and the present feeling of vivid life, Suffering of Green (1996), where Lee turned the natural process of burning the canvas and droplets of water colors into artistic creations as well as Painting Water (1995/2020) that entails the very process of the effects of falling water droplets while highlighting the artist’s actions and process.

From early on, Lee believed that "what is local is most global," and took the most traditional motifs of folk goods, godret stones, stone pagodas, earthenware, shrine to the village deity, urns and roof tiles as the sources of non-material. Centering around the original piece showcased at Lee's 1986 solo exhibition Lee Seung Taek:Non Sculpture (Hu Gallery), at the Media Lab, one can reexplore the impact and significance of shamanism that has been continued on as part of people's lives had on Lee's overall art career.

Along the corridor, Drawing Wave on the Sand (1987) and Villa of Artist (1987-88) and other unique photographs of the artists are put on display. Lee's works widely known as "photo pictures," that involve painting images on top of photographs of his performance at mountains or oceans in a kind of photo montage approach to establish a virtual space where the artist is able to materialize the unfinished project that he had envisioned. Juxtaposing photography with painting and reality with fiction, Lee's photographs encompass his unique "inversed aesthetic" which uses fiction to interrogate the truth.

At the museum's outdoor space, Lee's 4 large-scale installations have been put on display. Land Wearing Roof Tiles (1988/2020) and Sound of Wind (late 1970s/2020) will be installed at the Museum Madang while 2 of the Wind series including the monumental Wind of 1970s~80s, which involved suspending a 100-meter-long blue fabric between buildings of the Hongik University campus back in 1970 so that it would flap in the wind, will be displayed at the Jongchinbu (Office of Royal Genealogy) Madang.

Lee Seung Taek's Non-Art: The Inversive Act will also be streamed online via MMCA's YouTube channel (youtube.com/mmcakorea) in the form of "Exhibition Tour with Curator."

The exhibition catalogue to be published in January, 2021 will include interviews of many artists - Kim Yisoon, Yoon Jinsup, Lee Youngchul, Lee Ihnbum, Cho Sujin, Choi Bonglim- as well as Artistic Director Hans Ulrich Obrist of Serpentine Galleries.

Director Youn Bummo of MMCA described Lee Seung Taek's Non-Art: The Inversive Act as a "largescale retrospective of Lee who is a representative figure in Korean experimental art," and added that "it will be an opportunity to revisit Lee's journey of the past 6 decades, through which he ceaselessly challenged the fixed notion of art and to newly shed light on where the artist stands in the Korean art history."

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