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Tina Kim Gallery opens an exhibition by one of the leading members of the Dansaekhwa movement
Installation view of Return to Color: Ha Chong-Hyun at Tina Kim Gallery. Image by Dario Lasagni.

NEW YORK, NY.- Tina Kim Gallery is presenting Return to Color, a solo exhibition of works by Ha Chong-Hyun (b. 1935), one of the leading members of the Dansaekhwa movement. Marking his third solo presentation with the gallery, the exhibition surveys the last decade of the artist’s practice with new polychromatic works that illuminate a return to color as well as a departure from his foundational, monochromatic Conjunction series first developed in the 1970s. This revitalized body of work is being exhibited alongside selections from the artist’s Post-Conjunction series from 2011. Shown together, the exhibition examines the artist’s relationship with color, and investigate the philosophy behind the pivotal transitions in Ha’s practice. The exhibition is on view from May 8 to June 30 2021.

Ha Chong-Hyun began his Conjunction series in the 1970s and has developed the techniques into a signature style. The word “Conjunction” denotes the physical connection between two significant elements of his practice, his methods and his materials, and how the two are ‘conjoined.’ He started to use burlap in replacement of the more traditional canvas popular after the Korean War. It allows him to approach each painting from the reverse, pushing thick paint through the loose weave. The oil paint then emerges from the front, creating a texture that has become iconic to Ha’s practice.

While Ha is predominantly known for his monochrome paintings, this exhibition aims to bring forth a fresh perspective on Ha’s oeuvre, by presenting his Post-Conjunction series that illuminates a fuller, well-rounded discourse on Ha’s practice. In this series, Ha no longer limits himself to his usual earth-tone color palette. Rather, he opens himself up to a more diverse range of colors, building off of his earlier practice back in the 1960s during his tenure as a leader of the ‘A.G’. (Korean Avant-Garde Association), in which he would introduce the latest art trends to Korean counterparts. During this time, he engaged with abstraction and incorporated ‘Obangsaek,’ the color scheme of the Korean traditional colors of white, black, blue, yellow, and red. While his typical use of muted tones heavily involves the Dansaekhwa movement, a silent protest against the political establishment, his earlier works reflect much more vibrant, even, painterly gestures. Ha would also explore unconventional materials such as barbed wires, newspaper, and plaster, as a direct response to the situation of post-war Korea. Integrating everyday objects into his works, he challenged the traditional notion of painting and blurred the boundaries between painting, sculpture, and performance.

In each Post-Conjunction work, colorful oil pigments seep through each canvas consisting of multiple panels. Before the oozed oil paints would fully dry out, Ha would make labor-intensive marks directly on them in diagonal directions. The canvases themselves are elaborately formed with each wooden panel, which is sealed with cotton cloth and then painted with colorful gradations, connecting one to the other. Here, the artist explores and works with multiple sides of the canvas surface, pursuing his idea of painting as an object ever since the late 1960s. Thus, his practice in this series not only demonstrates the tension between two and three-dimensional forms, but also intensifies Ha’s continuous investigation of materiality and tactility. He combines spirited elements of color from his early work with the gradient, canvas breaking techniques of Conjunction, becoming whole in his totality of expression. Ha finally breaks the threshold of politics and personal, and expresses himself to the fullest without restraints of color, form, and purpose.

Essentially, Ha’s development of Post-Conjunction series further equipped him to expand his vibrant color scheme and painting method to his most recent Conjunction series, in which he applies layers of thick impasto marks that are further highlighted in gradations of paints mixed with white. His intensified yet loose painterly strokes amplify a more tactile appearance of each work amid its visceral surface, connoting Ha’s foremost interest in the pure act of painting. As evident in each new Conjunction series, the works have evolved richer and more diverse in its shades and forms. Still, each work reflects consistent formal qualities through Ha’s vigorous self-reference and profound contemplation on new challenges intertwined. Harkening back to his early practice from the late 1960s and the 1970s in which he would incorporate bright yet natural colors and experiment with space, both Post-Conjunction and new Conjunction series can be measured as the extension of his dynamic, ongoing quest for paintings’ myriad potentials.

Ha Chong-Hyun has lived and worked in Seoul since graduating from Hongik University in 1959. Awarded an honorary doctorate degree, he served as the Dean of the Fine Arts College from 1990 to 1994. From 2001 to 2006, Ha was the Director of the Seoul Museum of Art.

Ha has had major solo exhibitions at Mudima Foundation of Contemporary Art, Milan (2003), Gyeongnam Art Museum, Changwon (2004), National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gwacheon (2012), and Daejeon Museum of Art, South Korea (2020).

In addition, he represented South Korea in major international art exhibitions such as Paris Biennale in 1961; São Paolo Art Biennale in 1967 and 1977; Venice Biennale in 1995; and Prague Biennale in 2009. He was also included in a historical exhibition in Venice, the Dansaekhwa Collateral Event of the 56th International Art Exhibition-La Biennale di Venezia (2015), as well as When Process Becomes Form: Dansaekhwa and Korean Abstraction with the Boghossian Foundation, Brussels (2016), and Korean Abstract Art: Kim Whanki and Dansaekhwa at Powerlong, Shanghai (2018).

Ha Chong-Hyun’s works are held in public collections of prominent institutions, such as Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; M+ Museum, Hong Kong; National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea; and Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul.

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