THE BLOG
01/22/2016 06:05 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Dansaekwha: The Korean Minimalist Painting Movement Sweeping the Globe


Dansaekhwa and Minimalism, Installation view, 2016, Blum & Poe, Los Angeles. Pictured, left to right: Kwon Young-woo, Sol LeWitt, Chung Sang-hwa. Courtesy of the artists and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

The Rise of Dansaekwha

"Dansaekwha and Minimalism," which opened January 16 at Blum & Poe in Los Angeles, is the latest in a series of exhibitions and publications devoted to the Korean monochrome painting movement sweeping the globe of late. While Dansaekwha (also spelled "Tansaekwha") emerged somewhat concurrently with American Minimalism, this is the first exhibition to consider the two movements side by side, finding subtle synchronicities between the artists' approaches to form, material, and medium.

Dansaekhwa and Minimalism, Installation view, 2016, Blum & Poe, Los Angeles. Pictured, left to right: Lee Ufan, Kwon Young-woo, Richard Serra, Park Seobo. Courtesy of the artists and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

The artists associated with Dansaekwha have enjoyed rising prominence in the art world, and increasing popularity among collectors, in the past few years. If one hadn't heard of Dansaekwha prior to 2014, it has been hard to escape since: with high visibility at recent editions of Frieze and Art Basel; a special collateral exhibition at the 2015 Venice Biennale, and with it a comprehensive book about the movement being published in English for the first time; a high profile exhibition at Christie's Hong Kong and New York; and several other recent exhibitions at major galleries in New York, Los Angeles, and London. This recent burst of global attention around Dansaekwha artists amounts to a widespread "rediscovery" of a previously somewhat obscure set of octogenarian painters.

Dansaekhwa and Minimalism, Installation view, 2016, Blum & Poe, Los Angeles. Pictured, left to right: Ha Chonghyun, Richard Serra. Courtesy of the artists and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

Though most of the painters in question have been working since the late 1960s in Korea, the term "Dansaekwha" was only recently coined: by curator and scholar Yoon Jin-sup, in conjunction with an exhibition at the Gwangju City Art Museum, in 2000. In that sense, Dansaekwha is a movement in retrospect--more a convenient term used to consider the similarities between a loose group of artists than a cohesive affiliation or school of art. As such, the artists variously identify with or disavow the term. The connection between their practices and those of the Minimalists is also accepted or rejected to various degrees among them. In fact, according to Yoon, "The school is devoted to the process of repetition and specificity of material based on meditative nature, which is the opposite of the Western Minimalism and monochrome's rationality and logic."

Ha Chonghyun, Conjunction 14-116, 2014, oil on hemp, 70 7/8 x 47 1/4 in. Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

Despite the conceptual differences between Minimalism and Dansaekwha, upon seeing the works of Yun Hyong-keun, Chung Sang-wha, Ha Chong-hyun, Kwong Young-woo, Park Seo Bo, and Lee Ufan alongside Richard Serra, Carl Andre, Robert Mangold, Sol LeWitt, Robert Ryman, Robert Irwin, and Agnes Martin, their shared aesthetic sensibilities are immediately and strikingly apparent. In the three expansive ground floor galleries of Blum & Poe, the works exhibited appear to be grouped together according to the material, textural, and perceptual properties of paint, repetition, and structure. The upstairs gallery explores color and shape with a collection of somewhat smaller works. Throughout, the affinities between the works span boundaries of culture, geography and, most interestingly, time--with works from as early as 1962, to as recent as 2013, it shows how each artist has consistently persisted with their individual concerns of form and process over long, devoted careers.

Dansaekhwa and Minimalism, Installation view, 2016, Blum & Poe, Los Angeles. Pictured, left to right: Lee Ufan, Sol LeWitt, Agnes Martin, Richard Serra. Courtesy of the artists and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

Many of the pairings between Dansaekwha and Minimalist works bring out keen similarities and differences between the works. The texture of oil paint built up on, scraped across, and pushed through the coarse fibers of hemp cloth in Ha Chonghyun's paintings accentuates the built-up, nearly bubbling textures applied in black paintstick on Richard Serra's monochrome paintings. A Sol LeWitt grid structure formed of the artist's signature white wooden cubes hangs from the ceiling in front of one of Lee Ufan's exercises in repetitive mark making, revealing a beautiful contrast between the building up of form and the gradual dissipation of it. Two small, untitled works on paper, one in ink on Korean paper by Kwon Young-woo and one in pencil on aquatint proof by Agnes Martin, hang side by side in a kind of silence, in monochrome restraint and delicate roughness.

Dansaekhwa and Minimalism, Installation view, 2016, Blum & Poe, Los Angeles. Pictured, left to right: Richard Serra, Yun Hyong-keun, Ha Chonghyun, Richard Serra. Courtesy of the artists and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

The differences between the Dansaekwha and Minimalist works are not as readily apparent visually, but rather lie in their contrasting conceptual approaches to the work of art. Broadly, the Minimalists were more concerned with the perception of the work of art in relation to the viewer, while Dansaekwha centers on the artist's fundamental, physical, sometimes spiritual, approach to paint and canvas. So while there is a visual resonance between Richard Serra's Double Level III (2013) and Yun Hyong-keun's Burnt Umber & Ultramarine (2001), for instance, Serra's aim seems to primarily rest at the level of the spectator, by playing with the disorienting perceptual effect of field and frame, while Yun's focus rests on the artist's relationship to nature, with the natural pigments of burnt umber representing the earth and ultramarine the ocean.

Robert Mangold, Circle Painting #4, 1973, acrylic and white pencil on canvas, 48 in. diameter. © 2016 Robert Mangold / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

While the Guggenheim's 2011 solo exhibition of Lee Ufan may have been one of the first shows to spark the revived interest in Dansaekwha, it is an interesting fact that in the West much of the recent reappraisal of the movement is being conducted in commercial settings--auction houses and galleries. Along with Seoul-based Kukje Gallery, who spearheaded the revival with an exhibition in August 2014, Blum & Poe have been on the forefront, staging the first major survey of Dansaekwha in North America in September 2014, followed by solo exhibitions of Ha Chonghyun and Yun Hyong-keun. In November 2015, Christie's Hong Kong set numerous records for Dansaekwha works, including Park Seo Bo's Ecriture No. 65-75, which sold for $1.2 million, a huge jump from years previous, when his works rarely sold for more than $100,000. This recent spate of exhibitions and auction records have seen prices surge up to 200% as compared to September 2014, Artsy recently reported. Blum & Poe's museum-quality exhibition "Dansaekwha and Minimalism," in its contextualization of the Korean painters with Minimalist counterparts, deepens the discussion on the art historical significance of these previously overlooked, yet compelling artists, hopefully setting the stage for further critical inquiry.

Dansaekhwa and Minimalism, Installation view, 2016, Blum & Poe, Los Angeles. Pictured, left to right: Ha Chonghyun, Carl Andre, Robert Ryman. Courtesy of the artists and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo.

"Dansaekwha and Minimalism" runs until March 12, 2016, and with a second installment at Blum & Poe's New York outpost from April 14 - May 21 with a presentation of smaller-scale works.

--Natalie Hegert