Born in 1928 in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province, Yun Hyong-keun lived through one of the most traumatic periods of Korean history, suffering great misfortune related to Japanese colonial rule, the Korean War, and the postwar dictatorship. Yun endured four political incarcerations, one for which he was sentenced to death by firing squad, miraculously escaping execution. Only after surviving these harrowing incidents did the artist fully commit himself to making art in 1973, at forty-five years old.
Upon dedicating himself to painting, Yun established his own distinct artistic world, which he called the "gate of heaven and earth." In the definitive series of works that he began in the 1970s, the artist used a wide brush to apply thick blocks of paint to canvases of plain cotton or linen, using deep blue (representing "heaven") and umber (representing "earth"). With these works, Yun succeeded in permeating the values of Korean traditional aesthetics with a lexicon of international contemporary art.
"I don't recall when I first began to like the color of earth. The same applies to the color of trees and the color of rocks. I love the colors of the natural landscape, and also the color of nature in winter. [...] True beauty comes from taking eternal textures and colors directly from nature. That's what I try to express in my paintings. I don't like to apply any primer to the canvas, also to avoid covering the texture of the natural fibers."
Eleven years after his death, this exhibition explores Yun's life and art with unprecedented range and depth, introducing many details and perspectives that have yet to receive such attention. Most notably, the displays feature a wealth of personal materials that have never been publicly shown, including early drawings, a large archive of photos, and strikingly honest excerpts from Yun's private journals. The exhibition is filled with dark and poignant paintings that capture the shattered national psyche of their time, highlighted by the works that Yun furiously painted in the wake of the Gwangju Massacre (1980).
This first European retrospective dedicated to Yun Hyong-keun has been organized in collaboration with the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) in Seoul and is curated by Kim In-hye, a leading expert on the work of the Korean master.
The decision to present Yun Hyong-keun's work in Venice is also based on the conviction that his art is in harmony with this city of land and water.