Chung Sang-Hwa

Chung Sang-Hwa

Chung Sang-Hwa is a central figure of Dansaekhwa (also known as Tansaekhwa), a central artistic development in postwar Korea that offered a fundamentally different approach to modernist abstraction. Though the term translates literally to “monochrome painting,” Dansaekhwa is rather characterized by its labor-intensive processes, repetitive gestures, and reductionist aesthetics. Rooted in the Korean informel style of the late 1950s to mid-’60s, Dansaekhwa emerged in Korean institutions and galleries in the 1970s and has been attributed to the work of a loose constellation of artists that also includes Park Seo-Bo, Lee Ufan, and Yun Hyong-Keun. Over his nearly six-decades-long career, Chung has developed a singular, meditative process of repetitively applying and removing paint from his canvases, resulting in multilayered, tactile monochromatic surfaces.

Born in 1932 in Yeongdeok, Korea, during Japanese colonial rule, Chung witnessed decades of tumultuous political and social transformations in his native Korea. He studied oil painting at Seoul National University, making canvases featuring dark palettes as a response to the fear and instability wrought by the Korean War (1950–53). As a student, short on materials, he would buy charcoal powder and mix it with oil to make paint; soon he sourced kaolin (powdered stone produced in the Gaoling region of China), which remains the core material of his practice. He graduated in 1956, three years after a truce brought an uneasy end to combat. In this moment of postwar reconstruction, art education and discourses in South Korea were reckoning with the legacy of Japanese imperial bureaucracy, which distinguished media according to materials and separated traditional ink painting from “Western” oil painting. These divisions were complicated by Dansaekhwa artists, who embraced abstraction and its internationalism as the Korean art scene developed in the 1960s. Employed as an art educator at a teacher’s college after graduation, Chung painted in his studio late into the night, studying reproductions of European and American art in books and periodicals. He worked in the Korean informel style, creating colorful, palimpsestic compositions with gestural marks that engage the negative space of exposed canvas, anticipating the work that would come to define his career.

Chung mounted his first solo exhibition in 1962, at the Central Report Institute in Seoul, and the following year, Galerie Lambert in Paris held his first presentation outside of South Korea, Les jeunes peintres coréens, alongside Park Seo-bo and two other Korean artists. In 1967, Chung moved to Paris, where he refined his unorthodox techniques in an environment more amenable to artistic experimentation. He took French language lessons at the L'Alliance française Paris and diligently visited museums and galleries. In 1968, his first solo exhibition in Paris was presented at Galerie Jean Camion, and in 1969, he relocated to Kobe, Japan, where he became acquainted with the work of artists such as Jiro Yoshihara, Kazuo Shiraga, and others associated with the avant-garde Gutai group. There, he “opened his eyes to the canvas,” as he has described, developing his ritual of painting, folding, cracking, striping, and repainting as a mode of self-exploration.

By the mid-’70s, Dansaekhwa had become a dominant force in Korea and found international traction with significant exhibitions in France and Japan, where Chung mounted numerous solo presentations throughout the decade, including those at Shinanobashi Gallery in Osaka (1969, 1973); Motomachi Gallery in Kobe (1971, 1977); Mudo Gallery (1972) and Muramatsu Gallery (1973) in Tokyo; and Coco Gallery in Kyoto (1977). In the late ’70s, he arrived at his signature monochromatic gridded paintings. To create them, first, he applies ten or more thick layers of paint, glue, and kaolin clay to a stretched canvas; once dry, he unmounts the canvas and draws linear grids on its verso. He alternately rolls, compresses, folds, or scores the canvas to crack its façade before tearing off passages of dried paint with a knife. He then fills in the negative areas with acrylic paint. This process is repeated in various iterations, such that the surface cracks unpredictably as it dries at multiple rates. As art historian Joan Kee has described, Chung has approached painting “not just as an object, but as a question of time…Not only is there repetition, but there are long periods of waiting—waiting for paint to dry, to peel, to chip away, and so forth. His work may be described in some way as an aesthetic of accumulation. There is density of material, but also density of duration." In 1976, Chung returned to Paris, where he lived and worked for fifteen years before settling into a studio in the mountains of Yeoju, South Korea, where he continues to work today, surrounded by nature.

Chung's work has been exhibited extensively in Korea and internationally since the 1960s. In 2011, his solo exhibition Chung Sang-Hwa: Painting Archeology was mounted at the Musée d’Art Moderne de Saint-Étienne Métropole in France. He has participated in the Paris Biennale (1965), São Paulo Bienal (1967, 1973), Gwangju Biennale (2000), and the Mediations Biennale, Poznań, Poland (2008). His work has been included in notable group exhibitions such as Korean Drawing Now at the Brooklyn Museum (1981); Contemporary Korea Painting, which opened at the National Museum of Modern Art, Gwacheon, South Korea, and traveled to Ljubljana and Sarajevo (1991); Poetry in Motion, presented at Galerie Beyeler, Basel, and Gallery Hyundai, Seoul (2007); From All Sides: Tansaekhwa on Abstraction at Blum & Poe, Los Angeles (2014); and Dansaekhwa at the Palazzo Contarini-Polignac, Venice (2015).

Chung’s work is held in the permanent collections of the Art Institute of Chicago; Busan Museum of Art; Fukuoka Asian Art Museum; Guggenheim Abu Dhabi; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul; M+, Hong Kong; Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, Saint-Étienne Métropole, France; National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, Gwacheon; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; Seoul Museum of Art; Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art, Japan; and the Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art, among others.

In 2016, Dominique Lévy and Greene Naftali galleries jointly presented Chung’s first solo exhibition in the United States in New York, surveying his work from 1969 to 2014. This presentation was accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue featuring contributions by poet Yuko Otomo and art historian Tim Griffin. In conjunction with the exhibition and publication, Dominique Lévy hosted a discussion with the artist, Griffin, and the critic Robert C. Morgan. In 2017, Lévy Gorvy London presented a selection of new works in the exhibition Chung Sang-Hwa: Seven Paintings.

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Selected Works

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  • Untitled 12-5-13
    2012
    Acrylic on canvas
    102 x 76 3/8 inches (259.1 x 193.9 cm)
    © 2016 Chung Sang-Hwa

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  • Untitled
    1979
    Acrylic on canvas
    36 1/5 x 24 2/5 inches (92 x 62 cm)
    © 2016 Chung Sang-Hwa

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  • Untitled
    1982
    Oil on canvas
    28 3/8 x 23 5/8 inches (72 x 60 cm)
    © 2016 Chung Sang-Hwa

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  • Untitled 2013-7-15
    2013
    Acrylic on canvas
    63 7/8 x 51 1/4 inches (162.2 x 130.3 cm)
    © 2016 Chung Sang-Hwa

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Video

Chung Sang-Hwa: Excavations, 1964-78

November 12, 2019

Exhibitions

Selected Press

State of the Arts NYC | CHUNG SANG-HWA: EXCAVATIONS, 1964-78

November 15, 2019

The paintings on view will illuminate the conceptual and technical trajectories that led Chung to the …

NY Art Beat | Chung Sang-Hwa “Excavations, 1964–78”

November 15, 2019

Chung Sang-Hwa: Excavations, 1964–78 is an exhibition featuring a selection of paintings from a formative …

FAD Magazine | GalleriesNow Top Exhibitions of the Week: London, Paris and New York

November 15, 2019

Chung Sang-Hwa. Works from a crucial period when the Korean master was immersed in the international …

news is | 정상화 화백, 뉴욕 레비고비 갤러리서 세번째 개인전

November 15, 2019

【서울=뉴시스】박현주 미술전문 기자 = "1970년대 작품은 들어내고 메우는 표현의 …

Art Rabbit | EXHIBITION just opened

November 11, 2019

Chung Sang-Hwa: Excavations, 1964–78

Galleries Now | Chung Sang-Hwa: Excavations, 1964-78

October 28, 2019

Lévy Gorvy, New York. Thu 7 Nov 2019 to Sat 25 Jan 2020. Tue-Sat 10am-6pm

NY Culture Beat | Chung Sang-Hwa: Excavations, 1964-78

October 25, 2019

Chung Sang-Hwa: Excavations, 1964–78 is an exhibition featuring a selection of paintings from a formative …

Galleries Now | Weekender: Exhibition Top Picks

August 11, 2017

Chung’s works have grown more intricate over the course of his career, as the artist continues to explore …

Blouin Artinfo | Chung Sang-Hwa at Lévy Gorvy, London

August 4, 2017

Lévy Gorvy is hosting an exhibition “Seven Paintings” by artist Chung Sang-Hwa at the gallery’s …

Financial Times | Critics' Choice: Chung Sang-Hwa

May 27, 2017

First London solo exhibition for the 85-year-old Korean minimalist painter whose white monochromes play …

Artlyst | Chung Sang-Hwa: Seven Paintings

May 23, 2017

Solo exhibition of new paintings by renowned Korean artist Chung Sang-Hwa (b. 1932). Featuring seven …

ArtAsiaPacific | Chung Sang-Hwa

July 28, 2016

Dominique Lévy’s current exhibition of Chung Sang-Hwa is the first solo exhibition of the Korean artist …

Blouin Artinfo | Chung Sang-Hwa Holds First US Solo Show at Dominique Lévy

June 12, 2016

As market and critical interest in the Korean Dansaekhwa (monochrome painting) movement continues to …

Financial Times | The comeback kings and queens of art

May 20, 2016

It was the 1960s and 70s, and America was teeming with groundbreaking protest and game-changing political …

Korea Times | Chung Sang-Hwa seeks aesthetics of accumulation

March 27, 2016

This year’s Art Basel Hong Kong, which wrapped up its three-day run Saturday, was a feast of contemporary …

More Information

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