“Dansaekhwa and Minimalism” at Blum & Poe


“From Line No. 800117,” 1980, Lee Ufan, Glue and mineral pigment on canvas, 44 1⁄8″ x 57 1⁄8″
© 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris Photo: courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo

Dansaekhwa (or Tansaekhwa), a reductivist tendency that emerged in the Republic of Korea as far back as the late 1960s, has come under intense re-evaluative scrutiny. Indeed, there seems to be a market push to exploit Dansaekhwa while the time is ripe, and most of its practitioners are still alive and working. That’s fine, that’s how marketing works, and it’s gratifying to see something genuine and historically relevant get such treatment. One only hopes that the hype supports rather than overwhelms the scholarship-and to judge from appearances, the galleries in question share that hope. “Dansaekhwa and Minimalism” was Blum & Poe’s second look at the Korean movement, and the second show curated by Dansaekhwa scholar Joan Kee. They tried not just to reiterate the points made in its initial survey two years ago, but focus elsewhere-in this case, on the visual and material resemblance of Dansaekhwa to American Minimalist practice. (In fact, “Dansaekhwa” means “monochrome painting.”) In some respects, pairing the work of Lee Ufan, Ha Chonghyun, Yun Hyong-keun, Kwon Young-woo, and Chung Sang-hwa with nearly contemporaneous-and startlingly resonant-pieces by Robert Ryman, Richard Serra, Agnes Martin, Carl Andre, and Sol LeWitt made an even stronger argument for the inherent power of Dansaekhwa practice. The Korean artists, the exhibition showed, were capable of producing objects every bit as stark and obdurate as were their American counterparts-a point driven home by the often-stunning quality of works by both groups.

In terms of the argument for Dansaekhwa, Kee and Blum & Poe may have overplayed their hand here. They could not hide the fact that the Koreans, as intellectually acute and experientially dramatic as is their art, followed the Americans. In “Dansaekhwa and Minimalism,” Minimalism came off the senior movement. The exhibition argued for both tendencies, but could only demonstrate that the one was profoundly influenced by the other, directly or indirectly. In fact, Dansaekhwa also drew from other contemporary sources, including European reductivism and the Japanese minimalist movement Mono-Ha, as well as, of course, from Buddhist aesthetics; so the movement’s history was itself minimized. Fortunately, Blum & Poe’s previous show had made such matters clearer, allowing the gallery to indulge itself this time in what can only be called an examination of relative gorgeousness. This could have been posed as an Olympic stand-off between two national “teams”-who makes more knockout black-and-white geometries, Serra or Ha?-but the goal here was clearly to show affinities and shared sensibilities, which the installation drove home dynamically. “Dansaekhwa and Minimalism” indulged the eyes first.