Five exhibitions to see in Seoul: from an intergenerational survey of Korean art to new paintings by Issy Wood

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Panorama, SongEun, until 28 October

The diversity of contemporary Korean art is celebrated in Panorama, an intergenerational survey of Korean artists held at the non-profit art space SongEun. The exhibition highlights the creative trajectories of 14 artists, each of whom presents recent works alongside representative examples from their back catalogue, comprising a panoramic perspective of some of the most dynamic and in-demand artists working in Korea today.

Here, rising talents like Ryu Sungsil and Park Grim appear alongside mid-career artists like Kim Inbai, Rhee Jaye and Kwon Hyewon, while some of Korea’s most promising millennial painters—Lee Jinju, Jeon Hyunsun, Lee Heejoon, Keem Jiyoung and Sim Raejung—are juxtaposed to bring the disparate conceptual and methodological underpinnings of their practices into a shared dialogue. Although Hong Seunghye is the only artist over the age of 50 included, her decades-long engagement with the pixel as a base unit for visual expression assumes new-found urgency when inserted into such a rich mix of artists from subsequent generations.

A corollary programme of performances and sound installations activates SongEun’s subterranean project space, organised in a relay format that allows each artist—Kang Hoyeon, Anna Anderegg, Kim Youngeun and the duo GRAYCODE, jiiiiin—the freedom to utilise the full potential of this cavernous space.

Brace yourself: one of the paintings by Issy Wood in her Seoul exhibition, Look Ma, No Cavities (2023), revealing her “penchant for the seductive banality of contemporary image culture”

Photo: Damian Griffiths; © the artist, courtesy of Carlos/Ishikawa and Michael Werner Gallery

Issy Wood: I Like to Watch, Ilmin Museum of Art, 7 September–12 November

For Issy Wood, the key to art-making is not just a question of what to paint, but how to do so in a way that is authentic to her own experience. In I Like to Watch at Ilmin Museum of Art—a Seoul institution known more for its thematic group shows than solo exhibitions—the US-born, London-based artist presents a selection of 40 new works that demonstrate her penchant for the seductive banality of contemporary image culture.

Accompanying Wood’s paintings in the exhibition are manifestations of her other creative pursuits. A Korean translation of her 2022 book Queen Baby, a hefty compilation of the artist’s recent writings and a memoir of the anxieties of Covid-era existence, offers visitors a deeper look into the self-deprecating humour and occasionally bleak outlook that fuels her creative process. In a project space adjacent to the museum’s third-floor gallery, visitors encounter a selection of music videos by the artist, whose discography includes seven records.

Regardless of medium, Wood’s creative output is marked by a disarming immediacy, a cloying realism and a slightly deranged compositional sensibility that makes it hard to look away.

David Salle’s Prayer Works, Tree of Life (2023), one of the final works in the artist’s Tree of Life series, which he began in 2020. The graphic style recalls that of the droll cartoons of Peter Arno, the famous New Yorker cartoonist

© David Salle/VAGA at ARS, New York; Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin

David Salle: World People, Lehmann Maupin, until 28 October

David Salle presents the final iteration of his Tree of Life series at Lehmann Maupin, closing the loop on a body of work that the New York-based artist initiated amid the despair and disruption wrought by the Covid pandemic. In these paintings, Salle conjures a postmodern Garden of Eden with a mode of figuration that cribs from legendary New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno, whose caricatures lampooned the vices and values of mid-20th century urban society.

Salle’s delight in destabilising the images that populate his canvases is on full display in this exhibition. Each painting features cartoon characters caught in socially awkward situations, bisected by stylised tree trunks. Swathes of abstract brushwork animate the lower panels of these works and serve as visual counterpoints that represent art historical “roots” as well as notions of the subconscious and the past.

As a recurring motif throughout the exhibition, the “tree of life” visually unites Salle’s recent series while bringing a dissonant note of colour and abstraction that reflects the moral conflicts in the scenes above.

Suki Seokyeong Kang’s Mountain #21-01 (2020-21)

Photo: Sangtae Kim, Courtesy Studio Suki Seokyeong Kang

Suki Seokyeong Kang: Willow Drum Oriole, Leeum Museum of Art, 7 September-31 December

In her first solo presentation in South Korea since 2019, multidisciplinary artist Suki Seokyeong Kang unveils new and recent works at the Leeum Museum of Art. Willow Drum Oriole presents a diverse array of more than 130 works across the mediums of sculpture, installation, painting, textile, video and performance, which activate two exhibition
halls in Leeum’s arts complex and overflow into the museum’s subterranean lobby space.

The exhibition continues Kang’s longstanding interest in visualising contemporary social relations and invoking cultural heritage through subtle manipulations of space and materiality. Among the works on view are examples from her Grandmother Tower series (2011-19), which earned Kang the Bâloise Art Prize in 2018 and heralded her arrival on the international stage as one of South Korea’s most promising contemporary artists. Also on show is Column, a new body of work including sculptural installations and a video.

An image from Malani’s My Reality is Different (2020-23)

© The artist and Arario Gallery

Nalini Malani: My Reality is Different, Arario Gallery Seoul, until 21 October

Arario Gallery devotes all four exhibition spaces of its new Seoul flagship venue to Nalini Malani’s My Reality is Different, which combines elements from the artist’s recent solo museum presentations at the National Gallery, London, and Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Over the past five decades Malani has deployed moving images to tell stories of oppression through feminist and anti-colonial lenses, crafting a potent blend of drawing, animation, performance and sound to propose new interpretations of historical narratives.

This approach is foregrounded in the exhibition’s eponymous work, a nine-channel video installation that envelops viewers with a 360-degree panorama of simultaneous animations in which images of famous paintings from the National Gallery are digitally defiled using Malani’s characteristic technique of effacement and erasure.

Elsewhere Malani has collaborated with local female artists to cover the walls of Arario’s underground space with murals exploring themes of memory, remembrance and forgetting, resulting in a site-specific iteration of her ongoing series of performative wall drawings, City of Desires (begun 1992). Rounding out Malani’s presentation is the video installation Ballad of a Woman (2023) and a suite of large-scale paintings that address the burden of self-sacrifice and suffering borne by women throughout history.

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