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Issue 9

Teo Yang on the Highlights of His Collection

The Seoul-based designer discusses his extensive collective – including works by Lee Ufan and Ahn Kyuchul – and the last work he brought 

BY Teo Yang in Frieze Masters , Profiles | 09 NOV 21

I was exposed to art from an early age because my family were collectors. My mom would pick me up from school and take me to see exhibitions. We travelled to New York together to attend auctions and had pieces by Marc Chagall and Kim Whan-Ki in our living room, which we posed in front of for family photos and sometimes lent to museums.  

When I was young, I was very drawn to antiques and works that had a sculptural or three-dimensional quality. So, I have always been interested in art, though I have taken that passion much more seriously since starting my design studio.

I live in Seoul – a very fast-moving, contem­p­orary city – but my home, which was built in 1917, is a traditional Korean house with a wooden structure. We don’t have many of these buildings left in the city, so I wanted to minimalize the interior to highlight and preserve the original elements and allow the history to speak for itself. Many visitors find the house very calming and soothing. I think the natural materials of wood, stone and ceramic, present in the original features, infuse it with a serene atmosphere.

My approach to my interior design work is to ask: how can a space create a history for the client? Whether it’s a public institution or a residential commission, I want the space to be meaningful while also effectively communicating the brand or individual’s message.

Theo Yang
Commissioned photography for frieze by Mijoo Kim & Minjin Kang

It’s important to me that my private clients think of their home as representing who they are, almost like a second persona. Art can be a great way to show this.

The first artwork I bought was by Ahn Kyuchul, one of the most famous conceptual artists in Korea. Ahn is also an author and a philosopher and I’m fascinated by how he translates his writing into beautiful sculptures and installations. In 2015, I went to his exhibition at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul. I was so intrigued by the show that I went about seven times. I was happy to encounter his work again in 2017, at a smaller exhibition at Kukje Gallery, where I acquired Leopard Sheep (2017).

It’s a very interesting work, reminiscent of taxidermy, comprising a sculpture of a lamb that is covered in leopard skin. The artist calls it our collective ‘self-portrait’. It’s really a question of whether you identify with the lamb or the leopard, of whether you’re a liar or not.

The last work I bought was by Lee Ufan. He is such a huge part of Korean art history and the Dansaekhwa movement. The title of the piece is From Line (1979). I love how the lines in the painting overlap with the various shapes and lines in my house, dripping into each other to create this beautiful illusion.

To appreciate art, you really need to under­stand art history and what came before. So, I have started reading the many texts Lee wrote. One of my favourites is The Art of Emptiness (2012). I think that book made me the designer I am today. It prompted me to think about the spaces I create and my aesthetic. Lee has had a tremendous influence on me personally and professionally.

Theo Yang
Commissioned photography for frieze by Mijoo Kim & Minjin Kang

From Line gives me great inspiration and so much energy. Lee writes about the blank parts of his canvases as ‘untouched spaces’, which has helped me think about the area surrounding objects in a room and how empty space can become a stage for the play of light and shadow.

The work is displayed in our reception area because I love to share it with other people. When guests come to my studio or home, they are invited into this room, where we have tea and hold our meetings alongside this beautiful and inspiring work.

Collecting art is not just about buying something decorative. Installing an artwork in your home is like inviting a guest to stay: the object brings its own energy. Every time you see it, you feel that energy – so the piece really needs to speak to you and you and the artist need to have a similar philosophy.

Before I purchase a work, I try to read as many texts as possible about the artist or find interviews with them. My advice to other collectors and my colleagues is to study. You need to do the research to create a beautiful collection.

This article first appeared in Frieze Masters with the headline ‘Untouched Spaces’

Main image: commissioned photography for frieze by Mijoo Kim & Minjin Kang

Teo Yang is an interior designer and founder of Teo Yang Studio, Seoul, South Korea. Recent designs include Thaddaeus Ropac Seoul, which will open in October, A’lement by Angel-in-us and commissions for the National Hangeul Museum, Seoul.