Andrew Russeth

  • Nam June Paik, The More, the Better, 1988, 1,003 monitors, steel structure, four-channel video, sound, indefinite running time. Installation view, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gwacheon, South Korea, 2022. Photo: Woo Jongduk.

    BEST OF 2022

    IN 2018, staffers at South Korea’s National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art received a condition report from hell. Nam June Paik’s gargantuan tower of televisions, which had stood for thirty years in the rotunda of the MMCA’s Gwacheon branch just south of Seoul, was at risk of catching fire, the Korea Electrical Safety Corporation said. So the museum stopped turning it on, and while it mulled restoration plans, the work’s 1,003 Samsung TVs sat dark.

    Developed in the heady years leading up to the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Paik’s piece went on view as the games began. South Korea was becoming an

  • Yoo Youngkuk, Work, 1963, oil on canvas, 51 1⁄8 × 76 3⁄4".

    Yoo Youngkuk

    Yoo Youngkuk’s art affords many astonishments: its potent distillation of the natural world into abstracted forms, its inventiveness within self-imposed constraints, its daring and dazzling color. Why has it never been the subject of a solo show beyond his native Korea? Twenty years after the artist’s death at 86, “Colors of Yoo Youngkuk,” a blowout survey of sixty-eight paintings across all three of Kukje Gallery’s buildings, made a vivid case for Yoo as a benchmark abstractionist of the postwar era, in Korea or anywhere.

    Born in 1916 in Uljin, on the east coast of Japanese-controlled Korea,

  • Young Joon Kwak, Burn Slow, 2015, HD video, color, sound, 8 minutes 20 seconds.

    Sara Sejin Chang (Sara van der Heide) and Young Joon Kwak

    Raise a hat to curator Angela Jeeyoung Chun for taking on not one but two charged topics in this heartening exhibition—at a government-affiliated institution, no less—which was effectively a pair of solo shows. In one, South Korean-born Dutch artist Sara Sejin Chang (Sara van der Heide) delivered an unflinching look at coerced transnational adoptions. In the other, Korean American Young Joon Kwak staged a queer fantasia, a panegyric to hybrid identities. Titled “All About Love,” after the 1999 bell hooks book, the two-person exhibition amounted to a master class in intimacy and trust.


  • View of “Chun Kook-kwang,” 2022. Photo: Eun Chun.

    Chun Kook-kwang

    The beguiling abstract sculptures that Chun Kook-kwang made during his too-short career don’t quite fit that well-worn cliché of art writing: the historical work that “looks like it was made today.” Taking the form of eccentrically gridded objects or piles of a single material, they are unmistakably products of their era, the 1970s and ’80s. But their inventiveness, their candor, and their vast allusive range should nevertheless send competitive-minded sculptors rushing back to their studios.

    Born in 1945, Chun was at the center of the art action in ’70s Seoul. He helped found a collective called

  • Haneyl Choi, Bulky_fusion 2, 2021, mixed media, 74 3⁄4 × 47 1⁄4 × 55 1⁄8".

    Haneyl Choi

    Haneyl Choi has been on a tear recently, his mischievous sculptures of abstracted figures alighting in no fewer than a dozen group shows in Seoul in the past two years. At Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, a stack of three black hemispheres formed a kind of tar-covered snowman on one side, while the other was flat, pink, and adorned with two breasts, a penis, arrows, and dashed lines: the body as mutable construction. For a display of work by gay men that Choi organized at the Museumhead space, a mold of a forearm was stuck on a thin wire stand, extending a middle finger that had been broken off:

  • View of “Kwon Jin Kyu and Mok Jungwook,” 2021. Photo: Choi Yong Joon.

    Kwon Jin Kyu and Mok Jungwook

    The serene heads and busts that Korean artist Kwon Jin Kyu (1922–1973) carved from wood, shaped with plaster, or molded in clay radiate so much presence—so much quiet dignity—that it feels improper to place any of them alongside other artworks. Potently lifelike, each demands space, even its own private gallery, lest it overpower its neighbors. “Images of Eternity: Kwon Jin Kyu × Mok Jungwook,” as this show was titled, took a very different approach, placing eight of Kwon’s works, including six self-portraits, atop mirrored plinths in two rooms that were lined with moody images of the same

  • Seulgi Lee, Slow Water, 2021, paint, wood, 18 × 18".

    Seulgi Lee

    Viewed from its entrance, the main space housing Seulgi Lee’s exhibition “Slow Water” appeared to be almost entirely empty. The only visible object was a disk made of a thin lattice of raw wood about thirty-six feet in diameter, hanging by wires from the high ceiling. It looked like a utilitarian object that had perhaps served as a canopy for an earlier installation. Lights threw shadowy grids onto the white walls and bare floor. As you moved under it, though, sides of the wood that had not initially been visible came into view, and these were painted in alluring colors, such as pale rose, mint,

  • Sung Chankyung, One Lonely Pine Branch, 1980, nut, bolt, wood, paper, ink, 7 7⁄8 × 4 × 4".

    Sung Chankyung

    Sung Chankyung was a rare bird. A lauded poet and professor in South Korea, he created hundreds of sculptures—most small enough to cradle in one hand—using cast-off and quotidian materials. They are wry, inventive, even heartbreaking. Though he spent decades pursuing his practice, he rarely shared his works other than with his friends and family. This judiciously curated exhibition of about fifty pieces allowed a wider public to join that lucky group.

    Sung, who died in 2013 at eighty-two, once wrote that “rustling to make things” was his life’s greatest joy. His works radiate that pleasure, and

  • Mandy El-Sayegh, WALL, 2021, oil and mixed media on silk-screened linen, 74 × 47 1⁄4".

    Mandy El-Sayegh

    The new paintings that Mandy El-Sayegh offered up in “Protective Inscriptions,” her first solo show in South Korea, were jumbled, off-kilter, many-layered, and deeply discomfiting. They never cohered, not because they were actively rebelling against coherent composition, but because they seemed to be unaware that such coherency could exist. They were fields of disconnected actions and accretions of information, legible only in rare instances.

    El-Sayegh’s trademarks—tight grids (here, silk-screened in red and teal), thin veils of paint, collaged pages of the Financial Times—appeared in the six

  • Park Hyunki, Untitled, 1988/2021, monitors, stones, video (color, silent, 30 minutes 52 seconds). From the series “TV Stone Tower,” 1979–96. Installation view. Photo: Lee Young Min.

    Park Hyunki

    It is painful to imagine what Park Hyunki might have conjured in recent decades—as tools for making and showing video have proliferated—if the Osaka, Japan–born Korean artist had not died of cancer in 2000, at the age of only fifty-seven. Park, generally considered South Korea’s first video artist (Nam June Paik, ten years older, worked largely abroad), had by then produced an astonishing range of canny, profound work in that medium and beyond, as this concise exhibition, “I’m Not a Stone,” demonstrated. One suspects he had ideas to burn.

    On Gallery Hyundai’s top floor, a reconstruction of a

  • Lee Bul, Sorry for Suffering—You think I’m a puppy on a picnic?, 1990. Performance view, Tokyo, 1990. Lee Bul.

    Lee Bul

    BETWEEN 1988, when she was just twenty-four, and 1996, South Korean artist Lee Bul went on one of the great artistic streaks of recent decades, uncorking more than thirty heterogeneous performances that were incisive, uproarious, and sometimes harrowing. Through a canny marshaling of documentary materials, “Lee Bul: Beginning” offered a convincing and considered account of that legendary stretch, highlighting the artist’s unflinching challenges to gender inequity, militarism, and other enduring repressive scourges.

    Projected at monumental scale on the walls of a long, dark

  • Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Touch Sanitation Performance, 1979–80, citywide performance with 8,500 Sanitation workers across all fifty-nine New York City Sanitation districts, April 15, 1980, Sweep, Manhattan 8. Photo: Deborah Freedman. © Mierle Laderman Ukeles. Courtesy the artist and Ronald Feldman Gallery, New York.
    slant March 24, 2020

    Maintenance Work

    THERE HAVE BEEN harrowing interviews with doctors, sobering podcast hits by experts, and on-the-ground reporting, but when it comes to images of the coronavirus pandemic, the defining ones have been almost entirely ancillary, at least a step removed from the actual devastation. That has made it difficult to grasp its human toll. Many funerals occur without mourners, the sick deserve their privacy, and cartoon renderings of COVID-19 baffle. And so the most visible images related to the crisis have been the time-lapse videos of China speedily building hospitals, the footage of Italians singing