Critics’ Picks

Seahyun Lee, Between Red-141, 2012, 
oil on linen, 118 x 118”.

Seoul

“(Im)Possible Landscape”

PLATEAU, Samsung Museum of Art
55, Sejong-daero, Jung-gu
November 8 - February 3

In “(Im)Possible Landscape,” curated by Soyeon Ahn, fourteen artists from different generations and diverse backgrounds use various media to explore the meaning of “landscape.” Traditionally in Korea, landscape genre works (known as sansu, literally “mountain and water”) were meant to provide the literati with a virtual refuge from the hardships of reality, one they could access without having to leave their urban homes. The artists featured in this exhibition demonstrate, however, that a depiction can never provide a genuine escape from reality.

Using digital photography, Hong-Goo Kang re-created Wintry Days (Sehando), the nineteenth-century masterpiece by the epigraphist and painter Kim Jeong-hui. In the original ink painting, the sparse scene of a modest hut and pine trees symbolizes Kim’s unshaken faith in the political decision that led to his life in exile. The hut and desiccated trees in Kang’s work, Greenbelt-Sehando, 1999–2000, are ironically located in Seoul’s outlying greenbelt, an area known for its piles of trash and rubble. The detritus represents the remnants of the rapid development and urbanization of Korea in the late twentieth century, which has exiled disenfranchised populations from the greenbelt. Kang is not the only artist in this show who documented a landscape in the process of being extinguished without a trace. Dong-Yeon Kim’s The Holy City 12, 2012, presents a maquette of a modern city made from laser-cut plywood and crisp cloth, simultaneously representing a cityscape ravaged by war and an abandoned industrial district. Seahyun Lee’s Between Red-141, 2012, is a painstaking description of vanished places, rendered with eye-popping red oil on linen. Notably, the source of Lee’s trademark red is the infrared views of the DMZ that he saw during his military service.

It is tempting to conclude that these landscapes have been made (im)possible by the disastrous transformations that marked the rocky history of the twentieth century, but the subtle differences among the works make it again (im)possible to reach such a definitive conclusion.