Seven Exhibitions to See During Frieze Week Seoul

From Kim Beom's humorous works at Leeum Museum of Art to Jaeseok Lee's enigmatic paintings at Gallery Baton, these are the shows to see in the Korean capital

BY Hayoung Chung in Critic's Guides , Exhibition Reviews , Frieze Seoul | 06 SEP 23

Kim Beom

Leeum Museum of Art

27 July – 3 December

A still of a Korean man in front of a yellow canvas holding a brush
Kim Beom, Yellow Scream, 2012, film still. Courtesy: the artist and Leeum Museum of Art

In the 31-minute video Yellow Scream (2012), Korean multimedia artist Kim Beom replicates the set of Bob Ross’s famous television show The Joy of Painting (1983–94). With each brushstroke of an abstract painting in various shades of yellow, Kim unleashes a guttural scream that ranges in emotion from joy to pain, creating a synesthetic image. It’s a fitting introduction to the artist’s distinct sense of visual logic, as seen in this survey of some 70 works in a broad range of media, including painting, drawing, sculpture, installation, video and books. The early works especially provide a clear picture of Kim’s ongoing concerns throughout his practice. Chickenwire Chicken #1 (1993), for instance, explores the physicality and materiality of a painting by excising a shape and filling it with chicken wire, while Pregnant Hammer (1995) expresses the artist’s animistic thinking via a hammer with a bulging wooden haft.

Jung Yeondoo

National Museum of Contemporary Art

6 June – 25 February, 2024

Jung Yeondoo, One Hundred Years of Travels, 2023
Jung Yeondoo, One Hundred Years of Travels, 2023, video installation. Courtesy: the artist

Over the past decade, Jung Yeondoo – the tenth subject of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art’s annual exhibition highlighting mid-career Korean artists – has added a sociohistorical element to his multimedia works – including photography, video and sound installation – by reconstructing the experiences of migration, war and disaster of the Korean diaspora in Mexico during the early 20th century. In several visits to Yucatán, site of a henequen agribusiness that drew immigrant labourers, the artist collected personal narratives from second-to-fifth-generation Koreans. The exhibition centres on a large-scale, four-channel video installation, One Hundred Years of Travels (all works 2023), that presents narratives of the Mexican diaspora in the lyrics of traditional Japanese gidayu-bunraku, Mexican mariachi and Korean pansori. From the ceiling hangs the sound installation Imaginary Song, in which voice-overs by immigrants currently living in Korea parallel the experiences of Korean immigrants when they first arrived in Mexico.

Sung Neung Kyung

Gallery Hyundai

23 August – 8 October

Sung Neung Kyung, ReadingNewspaper, 2023
Sung Neung Kyung, Reading Newspaper, 2023, newspaper, 79 × 55 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Gallery Hyundai

‘My teacher is still as joyful as ever,’ one of Sung Neung Kyung’s former students told me after seeing the pioneering Korean artist’s opening performance at his Gallery Hyundai show. This retrospective constitutes a personal and social archive of the past half-century, during which Sung sought to subvert fine art’s conventional emphasis on materiality. A self-taught photographer who started with a Nikon F2, Sung made his mark on art history with work combining photography and performance. Contraction and Expansion (1976), which documents the artist extending his body to its limits while prostrating himself on the floor, debuted at the iconic ‘Three Person Event’ at the Press Center in Seoul in 1976. Subsequently, the artist has joyfully pursued variation. He has re-edited press photographs by adding marks such as dotted lines and arrows and exhibiting them in site-specific arrangements; collected ‘botched’ photos of his children, taken out of focus or accidentally; and evolved the earlier work Index Finger (1976) to Handwashing (2021), which captures the hygienic act ubiquitous during the pandemic. Don’t miss a re-enactment of Reading Newspapers (1976), one of his ‘meanderings’, on 6 September, in which he will read aloud from and cut out newspaper articles.

Jewyo Rhii

Barakat Contemporary

31 August – 27 October

Jewyo Rhii, Flash Pallet, 2023
Jewyo Rhii, Flash Pallet, 2023. Courtesy: the artist and Barakat Contemporary, Seoul

Love Your Depot is a new institution that supports the life of an artwork based on its physical reality,’ describes artist Jewyo Rhii on the project’s official website. Launched in 2019, ‘Love Your Depot’ manifests as open storage displaying previously exhibited artworks that have nowhere to go. The selection is not based on conventional fine-art criteria; rather, Rhii organically selects art by lifelong peers based on personal relationships. This latest iteration, featuring pieces by artists such as Seeun Kim and Chung Seoyoung, includes details such as the story behind the works and the labour invested by each artist. This affectionate, holistic approach intricately weaves narrative into aesthetic decision-making and builds connections between the artworks. Kinetic installations in the show, such as the slowly rotating Turn Depot and Painting Plate (both 2023), evoke a sense of intimacy as viewers are encouraged to interact with them, ducking and weaving beneath the hanging works. From its earliest iterations in public spaces, including museums and parks, Love Your Depot now casts its gentle light on the commercial core of the contemporary art market.

Jaeseok Lee

Gallery Baton

23 August – 27 September

Jaeseok Lee, Constellation, 2023
Jaeseok Lee, Constellation_1, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 1.9 × 1.1 m. Courtesy: the artist and Gallery Baton, Seoul

In Lee Jaeseok’s new series ‘Carrier’ (2023), a human-sized tree lantern hovers in the air against a backdrop of the ocean and a mountain ridge, recalling René Magritte’s The Castle of the Pyrenees (1959). The artist’s familiarity with Western art history extends further, suggesting references to futurism in its capturing of objects in motion. In this exhibition – particularly in Alignment (2023), in which the tension between the objects horizontally bisecting the frame implies a tidal moment – the artist creates illusorily flat images of balanced yet tense composition that exist uneasily with the laws of nature and the universe. At the same time, his continued use of symbols from his earliest works – alphabet letters of the kind found in instruction manuals, for instance, stemming from his personal experience of the Korean military and its hierarchical iconographies – adds a unique layer to the surrealist imagery of his enigmatic paintings

Yooyoun Yang

Primary Practice

11 August – 23 September

YANG Yooyun, Afterglow in between, 2023
YANG Yooyun, 'Afterglow in between', 2023, exhibition view. Courtesy: the artist and Primary Practice, Seoul

Confronting the viewer through the windows of Seoul’s new alternative exhibition space, Primary Practice, Yooyoun Yang’s close-cropped paintings depict faces expressing various emotions, ranging from anxiety to madness to joy. Works such as Gap and In Between and Heat Wave (both 2023) take the form of horizontally or vertically bisected diptychs that convey the sentiment loosely linked to each title. In a thematic continuation of recent presentations at the 58th Carnegie International and Stephen Friedman Gallery in London, Yang captures the anxiety that permeates our daily lives through the delicate interplay of light and shadow within the frame. The raw, unframed presentation of these works on the gallery wall reveals the qualities of the material on which the artist has focused for the past decade: while jangji, the traditional Korean mulberry bark paper that she paints on is thin, the many coats of acrylic she gradually builds up to produce near-transparent layers of colour serve as a reminder of the artist’s meticulous construction of her carefully observed, expressive images.

Sungsil Ryu


2 September – 1 October

Sungsil Ryu at CYLINDER, Seoul
Sungsil Ryu, A Piece from the Engine - The People Who Painted Ching Chen, 2023, 77 × 100 × 12cm. Courtesy: the artist and CYLINDER, Seoul

One stand out of last year’s Frieze Seoul Focus Asia section was Sungsil Ryu’s installation from ‘BigKing Travel Ching-Chen Tour’ (2019–20), a multimedia series about package tours in which elderly Koreans travel to the fictional resort of Ching-Chen. More recently, Ryu has been reaching out to anonymous audiences beyond the white cube through channels such as vlogs, Apple Music and interactive videos accessible through QR codes. In the artist’s evolving worldview, complex subjects – war, religion, filial piety, sexuality – are reconstructed into black comedies that bizarrely intertwine neoliberalism and indigeneity within Korean society. For this show, Cylinder, which exists somewhere between an alternative space and a commercial gallery, serves as a fundraising venue for Daewang Air – a fictional airline that has been grounded after an unfortunate engine failure. Displayed in the gallery space, a plastic propeller from the wrecked engine is painted with crude images of the ‘Twelve Greats of Ching-Chen’, the fictional resort’s mythical figures. The artist has also built a website to sell these works that aims to attract unexpected viewers via clickbait ads sporadically planted in online communities such as Reddit. Once again blurring the line between high and low art, Ryu here unites gallery-goers and potential collectors with a non-traditional, online audience.

Main image: Sung Neung Kyung, Handwashing, 2021, archival pigment ink on paper, pen on paper, and single-channel video, dimensions variable. Courtesy: the artist and Gallery Hyundai, Seoul

Hayoung Chung is a writer and curator based in Seoul, South Korea.