The Shows to See in Seoul This Weekend

With KIAF in town, your guide to the best exhibitions 

BY Mimi Chu in Critic's Guides , Reviews Across Asia | 27 SEP 19

Soungui Kim, Drawing for video, 1987, watercolour and pencil on paper, 30 × 39 cm. Courtesy: the artist and MMCA, Seoul

Soungui Kim

National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art

31 August 2019 – 27 January 2020

A woman pulls an archer’s bow at a dot painting. The arrow hits a white dot. She removes it before covering the dot with a square of white tissue paper. An action work by Soungui Kim, Ten thousand ugly ink dots (1982), is captured on video in the artist’s first major retrospective in Seoul’s National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA). Next to this work, a colour wheel of pasted bits of paper and a set of tables, graphs and diagrams (Drawings for I-Hua, One Stroke of Painting, 1984) reinforce the methodical meditation of her exercise. Tracing the artist’s twinned investigations into i-hua (one-stroke painting) and the five colours of the target, these works rhyme the techniques of calligraphy and archery.

Having moved from Seoul to southern France in the 1970s to study semiotics, Kim allied herself with the Fluxus movement. In the next room, she paints lines of poetry with Nam June Paik in a video from 1984 (Bonjour Nam-June Paik) documenting a work performed by the pair. Talking languidly, their leisurely spirit evokes the title of this show – ‘Lazy Clouds’ – a line taken from Kim’s poetry. Meanwhile, the multi-coloured verticals of cloth over which they sweep their brushes evokes the SMPTE bar trademarked television test pattern. Kim’s most recent project, Time Space, 2019, shown in the former part of this exhibition, is an AI robot she’s designed in collaboration with several Korean media and sound artists. One of its activities involved reciting her poetry.

‘A Shiver in Search of a Spine’, 2019, exhibition view. Courtesy: Arario Gallery, Seoul

‘A Shiver in Search of a Spine’

Arario Gallery

11 July – 5 October

Don’t be deceived by the press release to this group show, which apparently ‘aims to create a narrow but long communicative vessel linking time-space between Korea and Germany’, purely on the basis that all the artists are currently based in Berlin (at least partially). Bringing together work by Sol Calero, Zora Mann, Peter Halilaj and Kasia Fudakowski, the actual exhibition rebels against this kind of spurious essentialism. Calero’s three acrylic paintings taken from her 2015 exhibition ‘La Escuela del Sur’ at London’s Studio Voltaire, present stripped-back, life-size architectural facades assimilated from a medley of sources – theatre sets, houses in Los Roques, a gallery building in south London. Meanwhile Zora Mann’s bead curtain, Cosmophagy (2015), recycles materials found on littered beaches in Kenya; while Petrit Halilaj’s series of winding steel sculptures, ‘Abetare’ (2015), repeat graffiti outlines salvaged from the desks of his about-to-be-demolished former school in Runik, Kosovo. Elswhere, Kasia Fudakowski’s ‘Continuouslessness’ series (2011–ongoing) repurposes various interior fixtures – train seats, shower curtains, shrimp lamps, metal hangers – into a series of adjoining panels, tantalizing some irrational narrative. In a video playing from an iPad in a mop bucket on the gallery staircase, Fudakowski makes a cameo, chatting breeze to visitors at one of her exhibition openings.

Koh San Keum, Memory Board. 4, 2019. 4mm artificial pearl beads, adhesive, ballpoint pen on paper, 105 × 75 cm. Courtesy: the artist 

Koh San Keum and ‘Contemporary Korean Abstract: Series Two’

Gallery Baton

30 August – 2 October

Gallery Baton’s main space in the affluent Yongsan-gu district is currently showing the series ‘Infinite Tolerance’ (2019) by Koh San Keum, in which artificial pearls are sewn on pieces of silk in the patterns of words on a page. The pieces are visually pleasing but predictable, sentimentally stimulating but one-note. For something more experimental, head to the sleepy yet culturally rich Hapjeong district, where Gallery Baton’s non-profit side space, Chapter II, presents independent projects by early-career artists, next to a café and studio spaces where it hosts residencies. Last month, a stripped-back group show spoke to the fish-bowl like nature of the exhibition space in a selection of works by five artists – Yang Jung Hwa, Jong Oh, Wang Duk Kyoung, Chun Eun and Jung Ji Hyun – all of whom are demarcating and probing geometric edges in different media. The gallery’s current show is ‘Record of Destruction’ by Bae Yoon Hwan.

Ayoung Kim, Zepheth, Whale Oil from the Hanging Gardens to You, Shell 3, 2015, film still. Courtesy: the artist

‘Midnight Sun’ and ‘Survey 2019’


Various dates

Also in the area is Elephantspace, a non-profit cultural centre that houses performances, screenings, exhibitions and lectures. Their last film programme, ‘Midnight Sun’, brought together work by three Korean filmmakers. I stumbled in on a surreal sequence from Chan-kyong Park and Chan-wook Park’s Night Fishing (2011), in which a woman, possessed by a shaman, grips a knife and sings spiritedly. Meanwhile, Ayoung Kim’s Zepeth, Whale Oil from the Hanging Gardens to You, Shell 3 (2015) seemed to be a continuation of the absurdist musical theme: in the film, a professional choir sings about the ‘desert miracle’ of Kuwait oil while stamps and adverts promoting the industrial riches of the country flash above their heads. Elephantspace’s next exhibition, ‘Survey 2019’, co-curated by Rebel9 and whatreallymatters, looks at contemporary Korean graphic design and opens on 12 November.

Part-time Suite, Auto, 2019, video still. Courtesy: the artists

Part-time Suite


31 August – 29 September

You would be forgiven for missing this as a gallery. Tucked away on a quiet street in an office building, AIR is currently showing two new films by the artist collective Part-time Suite. On the ground level, Neighbors ver.1.1 (2019) shows CCTV footage of the inside of a factory morphing and glitching into sweeps of pixels, while downstairs Auto (2019) presents a speedy montage of people scrawling on their bodies with tattoo guns. It’s worth noting that in 2009, the artists rented cast-off spaces in Seoul for one to two months at a time with funds amassed from their other jobs. From their choice of alias, to the spaces that their works occupy, these artists are probing the margins of urban space in a way that’s at once nihilistic and entrepreneurial. A few blocks down, an artist space called Tastehouse shares a similar sensibility, selling ironic merchandise, not unlike certain places in the UK, such as the London non-profit, Studio Voltaire, and the gallery-vape shop, 650mAh in Hove. 

Main image: John Cage’s concert at an exhibition by Soungui Kim, 1986, photograph. Courtesy: the artist and MMCA, Seoul

Mimi Chu is a writer based in London, UK.