Lee Bul is one of South Korea’s most internationally acclaimed artists. Her forthcoming exhibition at the Sara Hilden Art Museum will be the first extensive showing of her work ever seen in Finland.
The Sara Hildén Art Museum is proud to present two decades of art by Seoul-based Lee Bul (b. 1964) in a major exhibition opening on September 23.
Earlier in her career, Lee staged performances clad in self-made sculptural costumes, or wearable soft sculptures. Through her performances, she presented a social commentary on the control of women’s bodies in patriarchal society. In 1997, free-standing sculpture became her primary medium.
Lee made her international breakthrough between 1997 and 1999 after presenting Majestic Splendor (1997), a room-wide installation of rotting fish decorated with shiny beads and sequins at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1997. In 1999, she represented South Korea at the Venice Biennale with works including sculptures from her Cyborgs series (1998). Lee received an honourable mention at the biennale. Her success coincided with the wider breakthrough of Korean contemporary art.
Lee combines influences from many sources, ranging from science fiction, art history and architecture to the history of Europe and her native South Korea. She is interested in how South Korea’s rapid transformation from a military dictatorship into democracy in the 1980s gave rise to clashing narratives of progress and success versus experiences of conflict and misfortune. Since the turn of the millennium, Lee has been exploring human relationships with technology and its untold possibilities, while also probing the darker undercurrents associated with the rapid pace of digital progress.
Lee’s exhibition at the Sara Hildén Art Museum features sculptures, installations and paintings, including sculptures from her Mon grand récit series, mixed-media pieces from her Willing to Be Vulnerable series, and paintings from her new Perdu series.
The Mon grand récit series deals with utopian thinking and humankind’s pursuit of a perfect society as manifest in cities and feats of architecture.
One of the key works in the exhibition is Willing To Be Vulnerable – Metalized Balloon (2015–2019), a sculpture of an airship. Other works from the same series will also be featured, including an installation of fabric formations and collages on velvet.
The title of the Perdu series refers to Marcel Proust’s series of novels In Search of Lost Time. Small flecks of mother-of-pearl glimmer on the surface of the paintings, reflecting Lee’s interest in leaving visible traces of her process. Her paintings consist of superimposed layers of paint and mother-of-pearl, which she slowly sands down, allowing the colours and shapes to emerge partly by chance.
Lee’s art engages in oblique social commentary. She opposes all forms of totalitarianism, also in art. Her aesthetic idiom evades definition, and her choice of material is guided by whatever seems thematically pertinent. Lee often deliberately uses contrasting materials, such as organic silk and mother-of-pearl combined with synthetic fibreglass and silicone. Mother-of-pearl holds special fascination for the artist: it is a beautiful product of suffering, being formed by molluscs to repair internal wounds.
“Lee Bul’s works have a human scale; they engage the body, mind and emotions, making them universally relatable. Their corporeality and emotive visuality speak directly to the subconscious,” says Chief Curator Sarianne Soikkonen.
Multiple histories are intertwined in Lee’s art: the history of thought and human emotion, South Korean society through the ages, and the artist’s personal life story.
“Lee Bul’s works have a special magic that gently stops us in our tracks and makes us want to reflect on their deeper, darker background story. Lee urges us to reexamine our worldview, daily life and news coverage from a broader perspective. We don’t always realize that we need to stop and rethink, even when we most sorely need it,” reflects Museum Director Anna Hjorth-Röntynen.
The exhibition is partly a continuation of the Lee Bul exhibition at the Gothenburg Museum of Art, which marked Lee’s solo debut in the Nordic region. The exhibition at the Sara Hildén Museum was curated in collaboration with the artist, her studio, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, and the Gothenburg Museum of Art.
Lee Bul, September 23, 2023–January 14, 2024, at the Sara Hildén Art Museum
Chief Curator, Exhibitions
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