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Posts Tagged ‘Debbie Han’

Debbie Han first Korean artist to be awarded Sovereign Asian Art Prize

Posted by artradar on May 10, 2010


KOREAN ART ASIAN ART PRIZE

Art Radar Asia is pleased to bring you an article by guest contributor, Kate Bryan. Her article, Hybrid Graces, presents an in depth insight into the work of Debbie Han, the first Korean artist to be awarded the Sovereign Asian Art Prize. Han’s work is a useful starting point for exploring the status of contemporary art and culture in Korea today.

A Sovereign Winner

Earlier this year Debbie Han became the first Korean artist to be awarded the Sovereign Asian Art Prize, the biggest accolade of its kind in the region. The presentation of the award to Han can be seen in the context of a shift away from Korean art as an enigmatic, closed world to a thriving, open and accessible contemporary art market. That said, Korean artists are yet to penetrate mainstream consciousness, but if the quality of the work being produced by Han is anything to go by, it will not be long until they do.

Seated Three Graces

Han was awarded the Sovereign Asian Art Prize for Seated Three Graces, which subsequently entered the hallowed Sovereign Art Collection. The work is part of the Graces series which combine the typical body of a Korean woman with the face of an idealised Greek sculpture.

 

 

Debbie Han, Seated Three Graces

Debbie Han, Seated Three Graces

 

The composite form is painstakingly digitally rendered to look like marble, pixel by pixel for optimum realism. Subverting the practice of figurative sculpture and portrait photography, Han navigates the boundaries between illusion and reality and between western standards of ideal beauty and the reality of contemporary Asian women. Beyond the scrupulous technique and unexpected crossbreed form, the viewer is quickly drawn into the debate which Han instigates. “Beauty is a cultural conception and has long pervaded art history, what can be a better of way of understanding a given culture than through navigating this phenomenon?” Central to Han’s work is an enduring interest in how human experience is shaped and conditioned by contemporary culture, and as such the Graces series provides a sharp insight into the specifics of the world in which they were created.

A Korean artist?

Han’s interest in culturalisation makes her practice a useful starting point for a look at the developing status of both the contemporary Korean art market and Korean culture in the twenty first century more widely. That said, Han is actually an atypical Korean artist; in fact she resists the generalised label strongly. Han emigrated to the U.S. with her family as a child and went on to complete her art major at the University of California and her MA at the Pratt Institute in New York. Having begun her career in the U.S., she returned to Korea only in 2003 for an artist residency programme. Han was a stranger to Seoul and her unique perspective as a culturally disembodied artist propelled her to document what was happening in Korea and in Asia more widely. “I had a strong desire to interrogate what my Asian identity was and became overwhelmed by the inherent westernisation at all levels in both society and art.” Despite the ‘identity crisis’ that sparked her profound creative journey of the last decade, Han could not be described as an unsure woman. She is a strong intellect with a mind that constantly questions the world around her.

The Beauty Myth

Han was effectively an ‘outsider’ to the art world when she returned to Seoul and it is this objectivity that lends her work such strength. As an American-Korean woman navigating the city, Han was immediately struck by the forcefulness of the western beauty mantra. Korean women were spending billions on cosmetics and plastic surgery to conform to an ‘ideal’ type of beauty, specifically a eurocentric beauty. “The perversity of the situation became clear to me when I learnt that women would have cosmetic surgery to make their eyes more western before their first job interview, it was a new rite of passage.” More than 60% of women in Korea have undergone cosmetic surgery and the numbers are on the increase. The act is no longer a choice made by a liberated individual, but a survival tactic. A telling indication of the seriousness of the situation is found in language – the term for having your face done in Korea is literally ‘face correction.’

Sensation with Content

Navigating what the polemic feminist author Naomi Wolf described as ‘beauty myths’, is characteristic of an artist whose raison d’être is to understand the world around her and present complex issues to the viewer in order to raise debate. Han’s work has always been characterised by the dual forces of painstaking, diverse craftsmanship and pieces which demand attention, cause shock or surprise the viewer. These tactics are combined to address questions of personal identity and larger social patterns. An early example is the Hard Condom Series (2001-2003) where small bronzes take the form of soiled condoms, an object which arouses great discomfort. Han therefore interrogates the complexities of society’s reaction to something as innate as sex.

 

 

 

Debbie Han, Hard Condom Series (2001-2003)

Debbie Han, Hard Condom Series (2001-2003)

 

Han’s work is certainly conceptual, but is in many ways a direct rebuttal of the earlier conceptual artists she encountered as a student. “For me, ideas will always be important and central to my work. You cannot create things just to cause a sensation, they have to have content. But on the other hand when I first saw conceptual pieces at college I was disappointed that they were not visually compelling or creatively unique.” Han bridges this gap between ideas and form, producing works that make us stop in our tracks for one reason or another, marvel at the craftsmanship and then engage with the issue at hand.

Beauty as Sport

In 2008 the artist created a departure in her practice by beginning to employ Korean lacquer on wood inlaid with mother of pearl, a technique which demands over 20 processes to produce one work. Employing a medium which dates back thousands of years, Han’s challenge was to incorporate Korean inlaid lacquer into the contemporary arena, not only lending it a new relevance but having it underscore her subject matter. Sports Venus I is testament to the great success of the project. The life size lacquer bust is a rich dark brown, completely at odds with the classical white Venus.

 

 

Debbie Han, Sports Venus I, lacquer on wood inlaid with mother of pearl

Debbie Han, Sports Venus I, lacquer on wood inlaid with mother of pearl

 

As she puts it, “the reference to ancient Asian culture almost takes over, preventing a traditional appreciation of the classical Venus.” More startling still is the mother of pearl inlay which forms the pattern of a modern football, like an aggressive tattoo, across the face. Venus has entered the arena of sports, making explicit reference to the notion of ideal beauty as a new form of sports entertainment.  Han draws attention to the futility of the ideal beauty dogma, “it is just a game – in reality no one can conform to something which is a fabrication, an illusion.”

Food and Sensuality

The illusory nature of ideal beauty is deconstructed in a global series which Han has been working on since 2005. In Food and Sensuality Han collaborates with a regular woman from a given country, refashioning her into a model garnished with food from the culture in which she lives.

 

 

Debbie Han Food and Sensuality

Debbie Han, Food and Sensuality (since 2005)

 

In choosing non-professional models, Han unravels the myths about unattainable beauty by arguing that “any woman can look like a beautiful seductress given the right tools. As an artist I work to bring out to the outmost degree the unique beauty and style in each woman.” Her point is not about the benefits of a good makeover, but more about the breaking down persuasive myths and presenting a new reality. The combination of food – which is often draped over the woman to resemble clothing or jewellery – and female beauty makes explicit reference to the long held advertising mandate that sex sells. Further, in the face of a globalised world, Han rejects the homogeny of culture by identifying its distinctiveness, “food is like language, every culture has their own version and proudly supports it. This is at odds with our notions of beauty. The photographs aim to readdress the balance.”

A New Era

In all of her work Han champions the re-unification of concept and technique. Her philosophy and quest to understand the constructs of the human condition are deeply entrenched in her practice, but she does not allow herself to fall victim to her intellect. Moving between mediums – and never choosing a simple process – Han’s work demands attention not just for its subject matter but for its craftsmanship and distinct visual appeal. Han believes we are entering a new era, a movement without a name, “art must not any longer end with a concept. When I returned to Seoul I saw very thought provoking work in the context of a rapidly changing city, but I wanted to know where the form had gone.” The gravity of the themes in her work coupled with her exquisite dedication to mastering mediums makes Han a worthy prize winner, and for an audience new to Korean contemporary art, a fascinating starting point.

Kate Bryan is a contributing Editor for Asian art News, World Sculptures News and her work has been published in Kee Magazine, The Sentinel, Essence and West East. She received her BA in Fine Art from Warwick University and subsequently worked at the British Museum in London for four years. She recently completed her master’s degree at the University of Hong Kong and is the Deputy Director of The Cat Street Gallery.

Editorial disclaimer – The opinions and views expressed by guest writers  do not necessarily reflect those of Art Radar Asia, staff, sponsors and partners.
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Posted in American, Body, Debbie Han, Eyes, Female form, Food, Human Body, Kate Bryan, Korean, Lacquer, Mythical figures, Photography, Prizes, Sculpture, Sport | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Collector Ciclitira, founder of Korean Eye, makes big plans for Korean art

Posted by artradar on June 30, 2009


KOREAN ART

If you have an interest in Korean contemporary art, be sure to make time for the latest 20 minute podcast from Arttactic, a London-based research house.

In it, British collector and sports promoter David Ciclitira, together with Rodman Primack, Phillip de Pury’s London chairman, discuss Korean Eye, a multi-year initiative founded by Ciclitira which aims to promote Korean contemporary art to a Western and ultimately international audience.

Hyung Koo Kang, Woman, 2009

Hyung Koo Kang, Woman, 2009

Korean Eye is holding its first 31 artist exhibition at The Saatchi Gallery in London until 5 July 2009 and the exhibition catalogue is available online. “This space in London is the iconic space right now, it has three to four thousand people a day going through the space in 20 days, so we’ll have 60 to 80 thousand people coming through, so that will be good” says Ciclitira in an interview with Art Market Monitor.

None of it’s from my collection. It’s all brand new. It’s all for sale. I’ve built up a collection of Korean contemporary art in the last two or three years. But I asked a young curator to put the show together, so it’s his choice of artists. I don’t necessarily agree with all of it, but when you hire a curator, you let them do it.

Later Ciclitira plans to bring a larger Korean Eye-branded show to other ‘markets’  including perhaps Singapore, Abu Dhabi and Hong Kong.

Seung WookSim, black mutated ornamentation 2007, hot glue on steel frame

Seung Wook Sim, black mutated ornamentation 2007, hot glue on steel frame

‘The Korean Eye’ initiative is interesting on several fronts:

1. Bringing Korean art to the West

Korean contemporary art has, as yet, had little exposure in the West.

Chinese and Japanese contemporary art have already received academic and critical attention from universities and museums in Western cultures. However unlike Japanese art which has experienced long international exposure and Chinese art which has strong national support from economic growth, Korean art is in the shadows. note 1

Ciclitira points out in the podcast that although show catalogues produced in Korea are of a high quality, there is not yet a bilingual book on Korean contemporary art, a gap which ‘Korean Eye’ plans to address in the next 18 months.

Koreans have a 25 year history of collecting Western artists but support for local artists is burgeoning. There has been a growth spurt in the number of Korean galleries in the last 2-3 years and artists are not harnessed to individual galleries. The resulting competitive environment created keen pricing even before the recession. Now the recession is stimulating further discounts. Korean galleries are present at Asian art fairs and have set up galleries across Asia but are still rare further west.

Park Seung Mo, Contrabass

Park Seung Mo, Contrabass

2. Bank sponsorship money can still be found …in Asia

Funds available from bank sponsorship have been thin on the ground since the Lehman collapse in autumn 2008. While the Hong Kong Art Fair ’09 failed to find a replacement sponsor for Lehman, Ciclitira has had better luck:

I’ve been very fortunate to be sponsored by Standard Chartered. That’s not a bank known to many American people. It’s now Britain’s second-largest bank. It was the only bank that didn’t invest in subprime. It’s in 108 markets around the world. It’s highly profitable. It’s basically a Hong Kong-based business. But it’s the largest single foreign investor in Korea. They bought a major bank there, and it’s a really super bank which supports, locally, art. That’s one of the things that they do. And they’ve been really, really supportive of this project. I have been amazed how much traction we’ve gotten from their involvement. So in this time of recession, they’ve been very helpful and we hopefully get to work together with them in the future to build it in other markets.

3. Branded selling exhibitions – a new style of show

Finally ‘Korean Eye’ represents a new style of branded selling exhibition which brings together a collector’s passion, government support, bank sponsorship and auction house sales expertise.

Somewhat like Saatchi, Ciclitira has a background as a professional promoter and an ongoing passion for art. But whereas Saatchi has chosen to exhibit his own self-curated non-selling shows, Ciclitira makes no bones about his plans to develop ‘Korean Eye’ as a brand of selling shows. While he admits to having experienced a steep learning curve:

What I’ve found interesting in this whole learning process is how unsophisticated the art world is, because when you work in major sports events, there are more dates, so much more research, everything is television linked to media values, and art feels amateur when you look at how they do things, and it’s no small wonder that when they need to raise massive money, they find it quite hard.

David-Ciclitira-330x449

Collectors who, in the later stages of the their collecting career, want to be involved with supporting the evolution of art, come from backgrounds of all kinds. It will be fascinating to watch what kind of influence this sports promoter will bring to the democratisation of art through branding and media involvement.

I worked a long time with UBS, and I have access to all their research, and their research, number one for their clients was golf. Art came in third, I think, classic cars or wine were second. The reality is, it’s out there. I believe the art market goes beyond your top bracket. My people all started saying, “The chairman’s crazy, he’s going to do this,” and they’ve all ended up loving it. “Can I get my bonus in a piece of work?”

The problem with the art world is that they’re a bunch of snobs. The reality is that gallerists make people feel as if they’re not wanted, and I think this is part of the breaking down of what will happen in the next 10 years, more people will want to get involved.

It sounds like Ciclitira is a man with a mission to make that happen.

Note 1 Korean Eye Moon Generation catalogue Page 9, Joon Lee Deputy Director Samsung Museum of Art

Artists

Ayoung Kim, Bahk SeonGhi, Boomoon, Cho Hoon, Choi TaeHoon, Choo JongWan, Debbie Han, Han KiChang, Hong KyongTack, Jang SeungHyo, Jeon Junho, Kang Hyung Koo, Kim Inbai, Kim Joon, Koh MyungKeun, Kwon KiSoo, Lee Dongwook, Lee HyungKoo, Lee LeeNam, Lee Rim, Lee Ufan. Lee Yong Baek, Lee YongDeok. Park JungHyuk, Park SeungMo, Park SungTae, SeungMin Lee, Sim SeungWook, Whang Inkie, Yi HwanKwon, Yoon Jong Seok

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Posted in Asia expands, Corporate collectors, David Ciclitira, Democratisation of art, Galleries, Gallerists/dealers, Gallery shows, Korean, London, Overviews, Saatchi, Yi Hwan-Kwon | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »