Joan Kee at the early artwork of Sung Neung Kyung


TO CONSIDER what lies outdoor a global beneath political or financial duress is to reject the semblance that an unchanging lifestyles is identical to harmonious steadiness. The artist Sung Neung Kyung understood this particularly neatly. Between the mid-Nineteen Seventies and the past due ’80s, his concerns of studying, having a look, marking, and grouping afforded audience house for reflecting at the fraught years of authoritarian rule in South Korea and, later, at the incorrect guarantees of democracy. Keeping off the absorption of tradition into the hegemonic endeavor of nation-building that gave the impression interminable by the point South Korean president Park Chung-hee declared martial legislation in 1972, every of Sung’s works defined a realm that prominent verbal exchange from content material advent, urging audience to invite how issues imply. But Sung used to be similarly vital of the self-regard that lowered artwork and lifestyles to squalid contests of energy. Thru efficiency, Sung contended that shaping a political creativeness calls for now not simplest bodily stamina and a prime stage of tedium tolerance but additionally a company refusal of self-affirmation as the main filter out in which to procedure sensory enjoy. The sector is, as he suggests, at all times about you however by no means about simplest you.

Sung participated in his first exhibition in 1964, in a while sooner than fellow scholars at Hongik College unveiled the earliest identified instance of efficiency artwork in Korea. However it used to be now not till 1973, after he finished a compulsory three-year excursion of responsibility within the South Korean army, that he started his inventive occupation in earnest.1 Following a temporary dalliance with presentations of stones paying homage to the ones through Lee Ufan,2 Sung grew to become to the newspaper to salary new battles.3 Then the preferred mode of spreading data in South Korea, newspapers have been each guns and casualties within the escalating struggle between the state and its critics. For one week on the Nationwide Museum of Fashionable Artwork in Deoksu Palace in Seoul, Sung hung 4 sheets of the day by day Dong-a Ilbo, then widely recognized for its vital stance towards the federal government. The use of a razor, the artist selectively got rid of articles, leaving just a few photos and commercials. Every day, the former version of the newspaper can be smartly laid to leisure at the gallery flooring in an acrylic container that resembled a poll field but whose transparency simplest emphasised the opacity of the electoral procedure at the moment.

Antonio Dias, The Illustration of Art/Dazibao/The Shape of Power, 1972, silk screen and acrylic on canvas, 3' 11 5⁄8" × 10' 4 3⁄4".

Antonio Dias, The Representation of Artwork/Dazibao/The Form of Energy, 1972, silk display screen and acrylic on canvas, 3′ 11 5⁄8″ × 10′ 4 3⁄4″.

As a supply of data odd electorate may just convert into sorts of political participation—from balloting to side road protest—the newspaper changed into Sung’s most well-liked manner of exploring the political legibility of day by day lifestyles. Begun at house two months sooner than Sung carried out the paintings in public, Newspaper: from June 1, 1974, on, reads as an strive at resocialization following the artist’s lengthy years of conscription. The necessary draft reminded electorate of the country’s perpetual conflict with its neighbor to the north, whilst “peacetime” in civilian lifestyles beneath martial legislation intended obligatory silence. Sung recounts how the “concept of peace used to be in reality about protecting one’s mouth close. It doesn’t promise cohesion; somewhat, it simplest promises the erasure of dissent.”4 He broke down the viewing enjoy into 4 distinct modes: audience studying the art work from a distance, within the nominal privateness in their properties as opposed to studying in public; the artist studying the paper out loud as he excises photographs and textual content; the silent and oral behavior of studying through an unnamed populace that accessed newspapers thru family subscriptions; and those self same behavior of studying, belonging this time to the impromptu assemblies soaking up the day by day papers displayed in entrance of newspaper places of work. Sung reworked passive viewing into energetic studying, insisting that one search for absence even sooner than apprehending what’s imprinted on the web page.

Presaging Sarah Charlesworth’s “Fashionable Historical past” collection of prints within the past due ’70s, which additionally stripped newspapers of textual content, Newspaper: from June 1, 1974, on implores audience to learn newspapers now not for content material however for the way their very shape shapes the manufacturing of data. Functioning like real-time quotes, Sung’s newspaper works belong to a global fellowship of like-minded engagements within the majority of the arena then suffering beneath nondemocratic rule, together with Antonio Dias’s silk-screen takes at the dazibao, the large-scale posters dominating public verbal exchange all through the Cultural Revolution, and Antonio Manuel’s reconfigured flans, paper matrices used to create lead molds in newspaper printing. Made in Brazil beneath an army regime very similar to that governing South Korea, the works through Manuel and Dias—along with the ones through Charlesworth, Sung, and others—lay naked a global outlined much less through ideological, social, or financial divides than through what UNESCO director-general Amadou-Mahtar M’Bow described as “one of the most largest sorts of inequality within the recent global”: asymmetric get admission to to data.5

Sung Neung Kyung with Newspaper: from June 1, 1974, on, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, 1974. Photo: Lee Kyeong-seok.

Sung Neung Kyung with Newspaper: from June 1, 1974, on, Nationwide Museum of Fashionable and Recent Artwork, Seoul, 1974. Picture: Lee Kyeong-seok.

Maximum of Sung’s early works have been made in dialogue together with his buddies and associates in S.T., the free meeting of Seoul-based artists energetic from 1969 to 1981 that integrated Chang Sukwon, Choi Hyojoo, Kim Yongmin, Lee Kunyong, and Yoon Jin Sup. Upset with current pedagogical buildings, the self-funded S.T. hosted seminars all through which individuals mentioned a extremely eclectic number of writings through Hans Haacke, Heidegger, Joseph Kosuth, Laozi, Wittgenstein, Nakahara Yusuke, and Zhangzi, even supposing the Korean translations have been, in step with Sung, “now not extraordinarily dependable.”6 Amongst his S.T. colleagues, Sung used to be distinctive in distancing himself from what he regarded as the apathy of an artwork global that from time to time seemed too insistent on segregating itself from the politics of a state that managed the whole lot, from which artists may just go back and forth in another country to the provision of imported oil paint and movie. Location, 1976, addressed the orientation of the artist vis-à-vis interpretation. Sung had himself photographed with a duplicate of the June 1976 factor of House, a cultural magazine based in 1966 through de facto state architect Kim Swoogeun that used to be then South Korea’s number one outlet for artwork writing. In a single symbol Sung stands nonetheless, preserving the e-newsletter in his mouth like an obedient canine; some other depicts him clasping the problem between arms held as though in prayer.

For a few of his contemporaries, efficiency used to be some way to withstand over the top state oversight such because the 1973 Minor Offenses Act, which regulated possible choices of apparel and hair period. However Sung regarded as efficiency as one thing extra: an area for speculating on what he described as “situation of residing.”7 As he remarked years later, “Artwork isn’t a placard.”8 Sung got here of age amid the utopian promise of April 19, 1960, which noticed the overthrow of Syngman Rhee, South Korea’s first democratically elected president in addition to its first postwar dictator, and he knew too neatly the boundaries of direct protest. Within the decade that adopted, the innovative desires of April 19 devolved into the mockingly named Recovery (Yusin) generation, with younger hopes overwhelmed through a state that appealed to an older technology scarred through the privations of conflict and determined for the standard of residing past mere subsistence ranges.

Sung Neung Kyung, Location, 1976, nine gelatin silver prints, each 18 5⁄8 × 10 1⁄2".

Sung Neung Kyung, Location, 1976, 9 gelatin silver prints, every 18 5⁄8 × 10 1⁄2″.

Contraction and enlargement, 1976, is a compelling thematization of strength of will, following Sung’s frame as he strikes from an upright place to a fetal curl, then after all extends his legs and arms whilst balanced on his abdomen. The paintings’s name means that all through the mid-’70s, freedom of idea reduced commensurate to the unfold of authoritarian politics.9 Contraction and enlargement asks how the principles and directions central to Conceptual artwork can expose how simply regulations can transform rules running as pretexts for domination enforced through the specter of punishment. However it additionally means that the execution of Conceptual artwork can play a extra energetic function in highlighting how and when private motion can undo the principles implemented to include our bodies inside of buildings ruled through a make a selection few.

One of the vital few vices approved in Yusin Korea used to be smoking, and Sung made this the topic of a temporary however pithy efficiency. In photos, he exudes a at ease air as he smokes a cigarette till it’s lowered to a precarious column of ash. His angle reads as a small however important conquer the deadening pragmatism used to justify the expendability of private lives—which continued lengthy after Park Chung-hee’s assassination and the tip of Yusin in 1979. The fast smoke wreck—as soon as an indispensable staple of the workday—is stretched out over 9 levels in seventeen pictures, commemorating the idea that of leisure so devalued during Korean society.

Sung Neung Kyung, Smoking (detail), 1976, seventeen gelatin silver prints, each 10 × 8".

Sung Neung Kyung, Smoking (element), 1976, seventeen gelatin silver prints, every 10 × 8″.

Lots of Sung’s works implicitly problematize how postwar citizenship used to be filtered thru state calls for for general obedience. Demise for one’s nation could have sufficed all through the Korean Warfare, however in the second one age of Korean nationwide sacrifice, the state required not anything lower than unquestioned conformity to not possible and arbitrary requirements. In Counting cash, 1976, the artist threw small quantities of Korean foreign money onto a low white plinth whilst reciting the sums out loud. On the time, small proprieties exuded the pressure of legislation a number of the unacknowledged bourgeoisie, and such an act, even within the context of an exhibition, would were thought to be nearly unforgivably crude, specifically because it so vividly foregrounded a price machine that inspired calibrating human price to quantifiable metrics.10 One should now not “be happy with the falsehood of frequency,” as he wrote years later in his mock curriculum vitae beneath the heading “Solo Exhibitions.”11

Sourced from the artist’s personal private assortment, the fifteen chronologically organized pictures of Mr. S’s part means occupation, 1977, insist on a time line detached to global occasions, rational chronological programs ordered in common increments, and linear pondering bolstered through the theory of a long term compromised through the imminence of armed struggle. All the time on the lookout for standpoint, Mr. S’s part means occupation displays Sung taking inventory at age thirty-three, which used to be then regarded as the midpoint of the lifestyles span of the typical South Korean male. Visualizing his autobiography as a file of private relationships, the set up is composed of pictures from adolescence on. Faces of circle of relatives, buddies, and artist colleagues peer out, with the remaining symbol appearing Sung status in entrance of documentation of Apple, 1977, some other of his sequential performances. There’s little in the best way of sentiment. Circle of relatives and team portraits deal with an unexamined historical past of colonial social order, bolstered through Jap ethnographers who lowered Korean lives into regional, organic, and occupational varieties. Enlarged way past the scale of a regular snapshot, printed newspaper {photograph}, or yearbook image, every symbol bridges the distance between artist and viewer through inviting us to venture our personal lifestyles trajectories onto the paintings.

Sung Neung Kyung, Counting money, 1976. Performance view, Seoul Gallery, 1976.

Sung Neung Kyung, Counting cash, 1976. Efficiency view, Seoul Gallery, 1976.

Mr. S’s part means occupation rehearses one of the most objectives contained in Right here, 1975, Sung’s first sustained paintings with a digicam. After asking his father to shop for him a Nikon F2 in 1974, the artist started photographing ephemeral works through his S.T. colleagues. Noting how cameras have been veritable luxurious items in ’70s Korea, artwork historian Kim Mikyung issues out the then-nascent elegance divide between artists who may have their works photographed and those that may just now not.12 Such privilege underwrites Right here, which depicts Sung photographing himself in a replicate positioned at a three-way intersection in an alley outdoor his house in Seoul, circled to turn eighteen other backgrounds.

Alternatively, the artist turns out to vanish from Mr. S’s part means occupation, displaced through a slew of grainy photographs. Reflecting his trust that a lot may well be “realized from that which used to be 1/3 charge,” Sung’s intentionally “low high quality” photographs snap to consideration as foot infantrymen marching in opposition to the tide of images sparsely set up to crowd out even the potential for different descriptions of a given theme or topic.13 The brilliantly titled collection “No courting to a selected particular person,” begun in 1977, pivots round a historical past of images imbricated in a parallel historical past of interior violation by means of gross infringements of privateness within the identify of public passion, condoned through the very establishment entrusted with safeguarding private and nationwide safety. Sung initated this collection through mining newspapers for photos of faces and rephotographing and silk-screening roughly 110 of them, which he obscured with skinny yellow strips around the eyes, the motion recalling makes an attempt to make sure the anonymity of sufferers and criminals. A perverse isonomy emerges, wherein private and non-private figures are rendered similarly nameless within the context of damage that acknowledges folks simplest as insitgators or recipients. The strips flattens faces as soon as belonging to our bodies within the spherical whilst additionally shrouding preexisting connections a viewer may have with the depicted topics.

Lots of Sung’s works implicitly problematize how postwar citizenship used to be filtered thru state calls for for general obedience.

Sung Neung Kyung, Mr. S’s half way career, 1977, fifteen gelatin silver prints. Installation view, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, 2016. Photo: Netjjae.

Sung Neung Kyung, Mr. S’s part means occupation, 1977, fifteen gelatin silver prints. Set up view, Nationwide Museum of Fashionable and Recent Artwork, Seoul, 2016. Picture: Netjjae.

Proven at the second one Daegu Recent Artwork Competition in 1974, a significant experimental-art exhibition in Korea, An the wrong way up map of global demanding situations cartographic authority. A big global map is split into oblong sections, which can be then re-presented as a gridded show subsequent to the dissected authentic. Sung is sharply attuned to language in a fashion echoing that of his cousin the poet Sung Chankyung, and the paintings’s Korean name (“Segye chŏndo”) carries a number of loaded meanings. The phrases actually translate to “whole map of the arena,” however chŏndo could also be a homonym for “steerage,” “transmit,” and “evangelize.” Through weaponizing its facture, the paintings retools Yves Lacoste’s watershed critique of the map’s susceptibility to political machinations. No matter tutorial pressure the map as soon as possessed is actually reduce into items and—in later iterations of the paintings the place sections are assembled flat on a horizontal plinth—introduced again to earth.

An the wrong way up map of global used to be for Sung a “state of affairs” foreshadowing certainly one of his longest-running collection, “Venue.” Begun in 1979, every access within the collection (forty-two exist up to now) starts with Sung figuring out newspaper pictures bearing editorial markings, normally damaged dashes encircling harm or small arrows and crosses marking the scene of an twist of fate, crime, or building, which the artist describes as “internalized day by day violence.”14 The photographs are then rephotographed, with Sung portray his personal notations at once on negatives with white ink so that they are going to seem extra distinguished than the unique markings. Revealed and enlarged to the scale of usual workplace paper, the pictures are organized in patterns on a wall.

Sung Neung Kyung, Here (details), 1975, eighteen gelatin silver prints, each 3 1⁄4 × 4 1⁄2".

Sung Neung Kyung, Right here (main points), 1975, eighteen gelatin silver prints, every 3 1⁄4 × 4 1⁄2″.

“Venue” demanding situations the declare that media publications can mint truths, some extent Sung underscored when he described “data as mere taxidermy and the reality as a residing, respiring creature.”15 Comically huge arrows studding Venue 3, 1980, try to “invalidate the editorial gesture” unilaterally educating readers what to peer whilst additionally refusing an area for reaction.16 Stripped in their authentic captions, the pictures bait audience into asking when disclosure within the identify of public passion turns into a pretext for illicit surveillance. With each distortion, manipulation, and degradation of printed photographs, Sung emphasised the distance between a fourth property satisfied of its personal authority to authentic illustration as fact and a public for whom the politics of illustration entailed a lot more than accepting reported accounts as reality.

Venue 6, 1981, places into concrete shape what the artist imagined as the path North Korean spies adopted whilst infiltrating the South. “I sought after to put across one thing of the nervousness the ones spies should have felt, understanding that once they crossed the border, they have been endlessly excluded from any likelihood at belonging to a house, a circle of relatives, or a country.”17 Reasonably than arrows, Sung used dashes to trace footsteps transferring into enemy territory whilst visually sewing in combination the paintings in order that all the set up seems to move slowly around the wall. As though to distance “Venue” from doable calls for for experimental artwork to champion liberal democracy, Sung made variations that solid doubt at the spectacularization of electoral politics the usage of press photographs of the 1985 Korean national-legislature elections. Unsurprisingly, “Venue” appealed to artists related to the stridently pro-democracy Minjung motion, however Sung’s commitments remained firmly aligned with bracketing what attempted to move as authentic data somewhat than with staging simple war of words.18 Certainly, Sung’s works seem particularly fitted to audiences as skeptical of collective harmony as they’re of libertarian detachment; the tacit, however nonetheless palpable, critique Sung makes of representational politics in all paperwork might provide an explanation for the overall absence of his post-1980 paintings from supposedly revolutionary histories of Korean artwork.

Sung Neung Kyung, An upside down map of world, 1974, world map, panel. Installation view, Seoul Museum of Art, 2017. Photo: Netjjae.

Sung Neung Kyung, An the wrong way up map of global, 1974, global map, panel. Set up view, Seoul Museum of Artwork, 2017. Picture: Netjjae.

Of the collection, it’s Venue 22, 1985, that the majority in an instant manifests what Sung supposed through the name “Hyŏnjang,” whose Korean that means is from time to time translated into English as “box” however which the artist explains is a compound of “the time referred to as ‘now’ and where referred to as ‘right here.’”19 For that paintings, 8 hundred pictures papered the wall of the Kwanhoon Gallery in Seoul, whilst the ground teemed with loosely piled photographs, an anarchic overload of data. Exhibited at the eve of Korea’s reemergence as a full-fledged democracy, Venue 22 signaled a brand new contest of survival, wherein protecting one’s head above the oceanic torrent of data amounted to a vital lifestyles talent. If Sung’s early works have simplest won efficiency since their debut, this is because the questions they ask of illustration and its politics stay as prescient as ever.

Sung Neung Kyung, No relationship to a particular person 1, 1977, silk screen on 110 gelatin silver prints, each 10 × 8". From the series “No relationship to a particular person,” 1977–.

Sung Neung Kyung, No courting to a selected particular person 1, 1977, silk display screen on 110 gelatin silver prints, every 10 × 8″. From the collection “No courting to a selected particular person,” 1977–.

Sung Neung Kyung’s paintings seems in “Simplest the Younger: Experimental Artwork in Korea, Nineteen Sixties–Nineteen Seventies” on view on the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, September 1, 2023–January 7, 2024. The display, curated through Kyung An and Kang Soojung and co-organized with the Nationwide Museum of Fashionable and Recent Artwork, Korea, travels to the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, February 11–Would possibly 12, 2024.

Joan Kee is a professor within the historical past of artwork on the College of Michigan and a contributing editor of Artforum. She is a coeditor of Number one Paperwork Korea (Museum of Fashionable Artwork, New York).


1. Partially in line with his passion within the Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, whose paintings he encountered within the pages of the Jap artwork mag Bijutsu Techō, Sung’s early artwork integrated summary art work, which he later disowned after having “intense disgrace for feeling as though he copied overseas artists.” Sung, “Pijuryu ŭi kaenyŏm misulga, Sŏng nŭnggyŏng ŭi ‘mangch’in’ modŏnijŭm,” interview through Cho Soo Jin, in Chungsim kwa chubyŏn ŭi misulsarŭl nŏmŏsŏ: ‘chiyŏk misul’ ŭi yŏksa, chaengjŏm, hyŏnan (Seoul: Hanguk kŭnhyŏndae misulsahakhoe, 2022), 33.

2. Starting together with his July 1969 article on recent Jap artwork for the influential magazine House, Lee had an important have an effect on on a small however vital team of more youthful Korean artists.

3. Sung learned that, as a “3-dimensional artist,” he would by no means be extra “than a 2d or third-rate.” Sung, “Pijuryu ŭi kaenyŏm misulga, Sŏng nŭnggyŏng ŭi ‘mangch’in’ modŏnijŭm,” 34.

4. Sung, dialog with the writer, March 28, 2023.

5. Amadou-Mahtar M’Bow, quoted in Tran Van Dinh, “Non-Alignment and Cultural Imperialism,” Black Student 8, no. 3 (December 1976): 45.

6. Sung, dialog, March 28, 2023.

7. Sung, dialog with the writer, September 1, 2022.

8. Sung, quoted in “OB dŭl ŭi suda,” in 1970–1980 nyŏndae hanguk ŭi yŏksajŏk kaenyŏm misul (Seoul: Noonbit Press, 2011), 307.

9. Sung, dialog, September 1, 2022.

10. Sung recollects that all through the efficiency on the Seoul Gallery in 1976, fellow experimental artist Chung Chan-seung screamed, “Wow you’ve some huge cash! Beverages on you!” Unfortunately, Chung died of liver most cancers in 1994. Sung, dialog, September 1, 2022.

11. Sung Neung Kyung, “Occupation sibilgyemyŏng” [Eleven commandments for a career] (1991), reprinted in Tangsinŭn na ŭi t’aeyang: tongsidae han’guk misurŭl wihan sŏngch’aljŏk now not’ŭ (Seoul: General Museum of Artwork, 2005), n.p.

12. Kim Mikyung, “OBdŭl ŭi suda,” 285.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. Sung, dialog, March 28, 2023.

16. Sung, dialog, December 27, 2022.

17. Sung, dialog, September 1, 2022.

18. Venue 29a-1 and Venue 29b-w have been integrated within the 1987 team exhibition curated through Um Hyuk, “Min Joong Artwork: New Motion of Political Artwork from Korea.” It used to be the primary North American presentation of Minjung artwork at A-House in Toronto and at Minor Harm, run through the artist previously referred to as Bahc Mo (Bahc Yiso), in New York.

19. Sung Neung Kyung, “Hyŏnjang” [Venue] (August 8, 1986), reprinted in Tangsinŭn na ŭi t’aeyang: tongsidae han’guk misurŭl wihan sŏngch’aljŏk now not’ŭ, n.p.

Sung Neung Kyung, Venue 22, 1985, gelatin silver prints. Installation view, Kwanhoon Gallery, Seoul. From the series “Venue,” 1979–.

Sung Neung Kyung, Venue 22, 1985, gelatin silver prints. Set up view, Kwanhoon Gallery, Seoul. From the collection “Venue,” 1979–.



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