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Pioneer Korean avant-garde artist Lee Kunyong defied the military to make his point

2 min read  ·  21 Apr 2023

Five Steps (1975-21), performance. Image courtesy of Lee Kun-Yong and Pace Gallery

Veteran abstract artist Lee Kunyong is trending on HENI News ahead of the Guggenheim’s major survey of Korean experimental art.

Kunyong’s HENI Score has increased an impressive 129% after the octogenarian artist joined Pace Gallery, which showed his work in its Hong Space. He continues to work with his longstanding Korean dealers, Gallery Hyundai and Leeahn Gallery. The prolific artist’s auction sales have totalled a remarkable $6m in the past two years. To find out more about Lee Kunyong and gain a deeper insight into the artist’s market, see his HENI Dashboard .

Kunyong's often colorful, minimalist paintings, sometimes created as performance art, typically explore themes of identity and the relationship between the body and society.

One of his recent works, Bodyscape 76-3-2019, created in 2019, sold for $191,900 at K Auction, Seoul. Kunyong's works have also been sold regularly at Seoul Auction for their estimates, such as an untitled painting, executed in 2011, which was sold for $53,800, and Body Drawing 76-1-2010-8, executed in 2010, which sold for $34,100. The Method of Drawing, created in 2012, sold for $25,300.

A founder of the influential Space and Time group in the 1970s, his work is due to play a central role in “Only the Young: Experimental Art in Korea, 1960s–70s”, a survey show due to open at New York’s Guggenheim Museum in the fall of 2023. The exhibition is being co-organised with the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul.

Being an avant-garde artist in South Korea under its military government was risky, as the artist told Stir World. Kunyong recalled: “In the early 1970s, I debuted one of my first Event-Logicals (how I term my performances) at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, and somehow the government found out about it. Subsequently, I received an official letter from the museum, forbidding me to perform any work, categorising it as ‘pseudo-religious’.” The artist burned the letter as a protest cum performance piece in his studio before an audience of his friends.