Critic's Note: Materials, Perception, and Physical Performativity
The power of Yoo Geun-Taek’s work resides in his exceptional capability for describing objects. In his first solo exhibition at Kwanhoon Gallery in 1991, he presented works featuring bold brushstrokes of Chinese black ink. These works are perfect examples of his ambition as a painter, and they helped him to uncover a new level to ink and wash paintings.
Yoo was greatly influenced by the ink and wash movement, which swept through the field of Korean painting in the late 1970s and 1980s. In 1984, he entered the Department of Oriental Painting in the College of Fine Arts at Hongik University. He spent his four undergraduate years sincerely investigating the future of Korean painting on his own. After his independent search, his debut solo exhibition served as his first stage to seriously address his concerns. Yoo’s ‘Remains–Toccata, Running’ interprets Korean contemporary history in a compact and symbolic way juxtaposing peoples’ heads and bodies in a panorama format. He appropriately utilized the techniques of broken ink (pailk, 破墨) and ink diffusion (seonyeom, 渲染), and incorporated colors for certain parts. He also added rough line drawings to render the heads, signs and symbols of obscure meanings. Yoo’s epic painting, ‘Remains –Toccata, Running,’ served as a springboard for him to be recognized as a young force to be reckoned with in the field of Oriental painting.
Yoo’s historical awareness grew deeper and more serious in the works that followed ‘Remains –Toccata, Running.’ He started painting images of people who cared for and were deeply rooted in the land where they were born and had lived all their lives. As a painter, he considered it his mandatory responsibility to paint a national identity through his own aesthetics and style, and he believed that this duty was historically assigned to him.
His solo exhibition at Wonseo Gallery in 1999 marked a turning point and a watershed for his artistic works. For this exhibition, he moved away from his conceptual and abstract tendencies in traditional ink and wash paintings and focused on aspects of everyday lives. The work in this series presented the world as seen by the artist through his apartment windows. This seemingly simple concept allowed him to address difficult issues of how to deal with time and individual perceptions in the way we see objects. The framed perspective also made the audience aware of how the physical boundary of paper visually affects their perception of the objects in the painting, as well as their sentiments.
The series includes 24 paintings of everyday landscapes seen from Yoo’s apartment. He named it ‘Depiction of the Universe;’ meaning "everything I am made of.” He emphasizes physicality through the work by showing how his body is an integral part of the cognitive field. The series realizes his intention by reminding the viewer how we perceive the image—and thus, the meaning—of the world around us through the active participation of our eyes. He calls this activity “visual breathing,” which is where looking at a painting is a form of respiration. When someone transplticserie“ throws a physical body—wheth cogniir own or that of someone looking at a painting—intoning—ecifg uslace, that living body then has the opportunity to actively engage with that space. One place where such “throwing” is expressed more directly and explicitly is at a party or banquet. Yoo’s series called ‘A Dinner,’ captures the scene; only the person who should serve as the main agent of the body is absent.
We see only empty liquor bottles rolling around, plates with food on them, forks, knives, flowers and other objects on a table. ‘A Dinner’ series visualizes the artist’s contemplation on temporary progress and disagreements by showing that the banquet room gradually gets more and more disheveled as time passes. The banquet in this series is a site where political discourses, such as the “six-party talks” (between North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, and the U.S.) might take place. By painting the detritus left from such a scene, the artist metaphorically presents his satire on people’s limitless desires and the insidiousness of political deals.
Yoo Geun-Taek’s works are ultimately aimed at determining how a painting can capture and express the eyes’ active involvement in our perceptions, and the marvelous feelings caused by physical activity.
Collection: National Museum of Contemporary Art,Korea
Artist's Education: Hongik University. Seoul, Korea. M.F.A., Oriental Painting.
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