An avant-garde Korean art movement resurfaces in LA

LA's Hammer Museum gets its teeth into avant-garde Korean art with ‘Only the Young: Experimental Art in Korea, 1960s–1970s’

Jung Kangja mouth-shaped installation, part of show of avant-garde korean art
Installation view, 'Only the Young: Experimental Art in Korea, 1960s–1970s', as seen at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
(Image credit: Photo: Ariel Ione Williams © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. [Jung Kangja, Kiss Me, 1967/2001])

A groundbreaking exhibition dedicated to the avant-garde artists that emerged after the Korean War is currently on show at UCLA’s Hammer Museum. ‘Only the Young: Experimental Art in Korea, 1960s-1970s’, which debuted at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Korea last summer before travelling to LA via the Guggenheim in New York, shines a spotlight on a moment of unprecedented creative energy in the country’s art history.

Experimental Korean art comes to LA

Sung Neung Kyung apple artwork

Sung Neung Kyung, Apple, 1976 (detail)

(Image credit: © Sung Neung Kyung. Photo courtesy of Jang Junho)

Confronted by a period of intense cultural transition, these young experimental artists worked both collectively and as individuals in pursuit of an artistic process and a language of resistance that could respond to the rapidly evolving socioeconomic, political and material landscape of the new South Korea.

Kang Kukjin neon light

Kang Kukjin, Visual Sense I, II (Amusement of Visual Senses), 1968

(Image credit: © Hwang Yangja. Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea)

The exhibition features nearly 80 works – in mediums ranging from painting, sculpture and ceramics to photography, installation and film – by 26 artists, centring on the likes of Ha Chong-Hyun, Jung Kangja, Kim Kulim, Lee Kang-So, Lee Kun-Yong, Lee Seung-taek, and Sung Neung Kyung. 

Highlights include Sung’s 1976 work Apple, a row of 17 gelatin silver prints depicting the artist taking bites from an apple, and Jung’s 1967 mixed-media, mouth-shaped installation Kiss Me, one of a number of Jung pieces that challenged the gender politics that defined Korean society at the time. This generation lost momentum in the late 1970s, but would gain wider recognition in the early 2000s when the art historian Kim Mikyung revisited the period, referring to the movement as ‘Korean experimental art’.

installation view tree artwork

Only the Young: Experimental Art in Korea, 1960s–1970s, installation view. Hammer Museum, Los Angeles

(Image credit: Charles White)

Ann Philbin, director of the Hammer Museum, says, ‘LA is a city with deep connections to Korean culture, and home to the largest population of Korean descendants in the nation. The artists featured in this exhibition represent a particularly important and compelling era within the recent history of Korean art, and add greater dimension to the study of art made around the world in the last 60 years.’

Lee Seung-taek sculpture

Lee Seung-taek, Untitled (Sprout), 1963/2018

(Image credit: © Lee Seung-taek. Photo courtesy of Gallery Hyundai.)

Adds Kyung An, the Guggenheim’s associate curator of Asian art, says, ‘The exhibition has been in the works for five years and it is fortuitous that there is so much attention on Korean culture – be it film, music, art or food – right now. While most people are interested in what is happening today, the exhibition highlights a particular moment in history that allows us to ground these moments of celebration and bring to the fore figures and stories that would otherwise remain unknown to a wider audience.’

‘Only the Young: Experimental Art in Korea, 1960s-1970s’ runs until 12 May 2024 at Hammer Museum, LA,

Park Hyunki artwork

Park Hyunki, Untitled (TV Stone Tower), 1982

(Image credit: © Park Hyunki. Photo courtesy of Guggenheim Abu Dhabi)

Anne Soward joined the Wallpaper* team as Production Editor back in 2005, fresh from a three-year stint working in Sydney at Vogue Entertaining & Travel. She prepares all content for print to ensure every story adheres to Wallpaper’s superlative editorial standards. When not dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, she dreams about real estate.