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Prequel

Participation by Korean Artists Prior to the Establishment of the Korean Pavilion

1986
Exhibitors: Ha DongChul, Ko Younghoon (Commissioner: Lee Yil)

1988
Exhibitors: Park Seo-bo, Kim Kwan Soo (Commissioner: Ha Chong-Hyun)

1990
Exhibitors: Hong Myung-Seop, Cho Sung Mook (Commissioner: Lee Seung-Teak)

1993
Exhibitor: Ha Chong-Hyun (Commissioner: Seung-won Suh)

In 1966, Nam June Paik, in collaboration with cellist Charlotte Moorman, orchestrated Gondola Happening during the Venice Biennale. As evident in his voluntary journey from New York to Venice despite not receiving a formal invitation, he already recognized the Biennale's emblematic significance within the art world. Later, in 1993, at the invitation of Klaus Bußmann, the curator of the German Pavilion at the Venice Biennale at that time, Paik formally participated alongside Hans Haacke and was awarded the Golden Lion for Best National Participation. Leveraging this momentum, Nam June Paik led the initiative for the establishment of the Korean Pavilion. As a pioneer in the internationalization of Korean art through endeavors like the Whitney Biennial's tour in Korea and the Daejeon Expo, Paik persuaded President (Kim Young-sam) that creating a Korean Pavilion at the Venice Biennale would mark a pivotal moment in elevating the profile of Korean art. The president agreed and instructed the Minister of Culture and Sports to advance this project. It is said that Nam June Paik's direct and indirect efforts were crucial in overcoming the various challenges faced during the pavilion's construction in Venice. He also played a significant role in promoting the pavilion, attending its inauguration at the 1995 Venice Biennale, making television appearances, and participating in the collateral event Tiger's Tail .

Bahc Yiso Nam June Paik with Marco Polo, Cover Image for the 1993 German Pavilion at Venice Biennale Catalogue ⓒ (photo) Roman Mensing, artdoc.de
1995 / 46th

Commissioner / Curator
Lee Il

Artists
Kwak Hoon
Kim In Kyum
Yun Hyong-keun
Jheon Soocheon

Date
June 11 – October 15

Prize
Jheon Soocheon (Honorable Mention)

In the year the Venice Biennale celebrated its 100th anniversary, the Korean Pavilion celebrated its inaugural exhibition, headed by Korean art critic Lee Yil (1932-1997). The Biennale that year was directed by French scholar Jean Clair, the Biennale's first non-Italian director of visual arts, and was titled Identity and Alterity: Figures of the Body, exploring discourses popular among the arts and humanities in the 1990s. In pace with the overarching theme, Lee Yil chose to show works by Jheon Soocheon, Yun Hyong-keun, Kim In Kyum, and Kwak Hoon. Lee Yil studied in France before returning to Korea in 1965, and taught as a professor at Hongik University beginning in 1966. As an art critic, he is recognized for introducing Western art movements to the South Korean contemporary art scene. Curating was not a familiar or common profession at the time, and it was not unusual for an art critic to direct an exhibition.

Kwak Hoon presented a performance on the front lawn of the Korean Pavilion, featuring large pottery works by the artist and Kim Young- Dong, a traditional Korean musician, with Buddhist nuns. Kim In Kyum presented Project 21–Nature Net, and the installation followed the stairs up to the roof, utilizing the spatial idiosyncrasies of the Korean Pavilion. He installed computer monitors that showed the movement of visitors, and also played images of bubbles emerging from a transparent acrylic wall. Yun Hyong-keun, the master of South Korean minimalist painting, presented a new work on a large canvas. Jheon Soocheon presented the Clay Icon in Wandering Planets–Korean's Spirit, an installation featuring industrial waste, TV monitors, and clay icons baked from kilns in Gyeongju. Jheon was awarded Honorable Mention for his installation work, a meaningful achievement for the first exhibition in a freshly-built pavilion. His installation was compatible with Jean Clair's main project for the exhibition of re-interpreting art history through the perspective of the body. As a result, after the opening of the Korean Pavilion, Jheon was interviewed by 16 different TV stations across Europe, and introduced in many international newspapers and magazines.

Bahc Yiso Poster from the Korean Pavilion at the 46th Venice Biennale, 1995. Courtesy of ARKO Arts Archive, Arts Council Korea
1997 / 47th

Commissioner / Curator
Kwang-su Oh

Artists
Ik-Joong Kang
hyung woo Lee

Date
June 15 – November 9

Prize
Ik-Joong Kang (Honorable Mention)

Many South Korean artists had ambitions to show their work in the second exhibition at the Korean Pavilion in 1997. Even those who had already shown wished for another opportunity in the new venue. This posed a challenge for Kwang-su Oh, the curator tasked with selecting the artists that year. Oh felt that the space of the Korean Pavilion was not sufficient to present four artists, as they had in the previous exhibition. One or two seemed more reasonable. In the end, he introduced works by Ik-Joong Kang and hyung woo Lee.

The two artists chosen to represent the Korean Pavilion in 1997 were relatively young, being in their 30s and 40s. Considering the protocols of the Korean art community at the time, his selection was highly unconventional. However scandalous, it was a well-informed decision based on his insight into the overarching trends of other pavilions as well as the Biennale itself. His strategy hit the mark when the 37-year-old Ik-Joong Kang received the Honorable Mention. The panel of judges praised the work of Ik-Joong Kang for its ingenuity in creating an encyclopedic world out of small pieces. What made the award even more meaningful was that Kang delivered a speech on behalf of the laureates at the winners' celebration party held after the award ceremony on June 15. At the press conference upon his homecoming, he elaborated that "the significance of his exhibit is to uphold and expand tradition on a global level." Furthermore, the Korean Pavilion was nominated for the Golden Lion for Best National Participation. At the time, both domestic and international public perception interpreted the Korean Pavilion's consecutive awards as "a firm recognition of South Korean contemporary art by the international art community."

When Kang's work was shown in the Korean Pavilion in consecutive exhibitions, the Korean art community started to perceive the Venice Biennale differently: the misconception that the Biennale was the final hurdle, approachable only by established artists, was replaced with an understanding of it as a place where changes in contemporary art were embraced and commentary welcomed.

Bahc Yiso Exhibition view of the Korean Pavilion at the 47th Venice Biennale, hyung woo Lee, The There Is , wire netting, 1997. Provenance: Art in Culture
1999 / 48th

Commissioner / Curator
Misook Song

Artists
Noh Sang-Kyoon
Lee Bul

Date
June 12 – November 7

Prize
Lee Bul (Honorable Mention)

The 48th Venice Biennale on the eve of the new millennium planned to be its most spectacular and avant-garde exhibition yet. The legendary curator Harald Szeemann took the helm, and the Arsenale had been renovated, transformed into commanding exhibition spaces. The ambitious dAPERTutto exhibition sought to set itself apart from any other biennale. Misook Song was curating the Korean Pavilion that year, featuring depictions of an apocalyptic society in 1999. Song explained that the two artists presented the ambivalence and paradoxical nature of the inner-value system, a subject clearly capable of connecting with the audience, even on an international stage. Attention was drawn to the fact that it was the Korean Pavilion's first year with a female commissioner and a female artist. With Louise Bourgeois winning the Golden Lion, 1999 was truly a year of women. Lee Bul also won the Honorable Mention—a third consecutive honor for the Korean Pavilion.

Beyond the Korean Pavilion that year, Lee also participated in dAPERTutto . For the main exhibition, Lee presented her Cyborg sculpture and the notorious Majestic Splendor of decomposing fish adorned with sequins. For the national venue, she presented Gravity Greater than Velocity and Amateurs, an installation featuring capsule noraebangs (South Korean karaoke booths) and footage of uniformed schoolgirls. Noh Sang-Kyoon presented For the Worshippers —Buddha, a figure of Buddha shaped using sequins and The End , a panel-framed piece covering three walls. Easily mistaken at first glance for a monochrome painting, The End, is Noh's minimalist meditation in sequins, illuminated by dimming fixtures that cycle in brightness every 80 seconds, maximizing the reflective properties of the sequins.

Bahc Yiso Leaflet from the Korean Pavilion at the 48th Venice Biennale. Courtesy of ARKO Arts Archive, Arts Council Korea Photo by CJYART STUDIO Junyong Cho
2001 / 49th

Commissioner / Curator
Kyung-mee Park

Artists
Michael Joo
Do Ho Suh

Date
June 10 – November 4

Kyung-mee Park was designated to serve as commissioner. She had been curating exhibitions while preparing to open the PKM Gallery. Michael Joo and Do Ho Suh were selected to examine the dynamics and identities at play between individual and social systems, human beings and nature. Park explained her choice, stating, "the two artists come from an understanding on the issue of Korean cultural identity within the trend of pluralism and globalization, and this is apparent through their works that are simultaneously traditional and contemporary."

Michael Joo presented four different works that made use of the many windows of the Korean Pavilion. Joo presented Tree, a large oak tree 1.4 meters in diameter sourced locally in Italy, cut along its length and reattached using stainless steel poles, alongside Family, Access/Denial, and Improved Rack. Joo's Tree was particularly eye-catching, as it appeared to extend beyond the exhibition space and outdoors into the pavilion terrace.

Do Ho Suh showed works exploring the dynamics between the individual and the collective. His Some/One, which had been presented earlier that year at the Whitney Museum, reappeared alongside Who Am We? and Public Figures. Suh also participated in Harald Szeeman's main exhibition Plateau of Humankind with Floor, featuring a two-centimeter thick glass panel upheld by thousands of little human figures that visitors could step on. Suh's work was featured on the cover of some of the Biennale's promotional materials.

That year, the Korean Pavilion hired a publicity specialist. Promotional activities were actively pursued, including a luncheon party held for the first time on the second-floor terrace of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, and a party in the Korean Pavilion yard on the eve of the exhibition opening. The Korean Pavilion promotion luncheon party at the Guggenheim Collection was sponsored in full by the Samsung Foundation of Culture.

Bahc Yiso Invitation from the Korean Pavilion Opening Ceremony at the 49th Venice Biennale. Courtesy of ARKO Arts Archive, Arts Council Korea Photo by CJYART STUDIO Junyong Cho
2003 / 50th
Landscape of Differences

Commissioner / Curator
Kim Hong-hee

Artists
Bahc Yiso
Chung Seoyoung
Inkie Whang

Date
June 15 to November 2

Commissioner Kim Hong-hee turned her eyes toward the site-specificity of the Korean Pavilion, a structure that resembled the traditional Korean gazebo, or pavilion. The Korean Pavilion exhibition in 2003 focused on the transparent structure of the venue, maximizing the architectural characteristics so as to recognize the venue not as a mere container for artwork, but as part of the content. Inkie Whang's digital interpretation of the sansuhwa (traditional landscape painting) Like a Breeze, was a 28-meter-wide relief mural spanning the undulating wall in the main hall to the glass wall, overlapping with the outside view through the glass. Chung Seoyoung's The New Pillar transformed the cylindrical column in the semicircular space into a passive pillar using Styrofoam and cement. Bahc Yiso's Venice Biennale installed in the front yard of the Korean Pavilion featured a rectangular wooden frame, each of its legs standing on a basin containing water, pebbles, and tiles. On one corner of the frame, he carved all 26 national pavilions in the Garden and the 3 main exhibition halls of the Arsenale as a comment on the biennale's cultural hegemony. World's Top Ten Tallest Structures in 2010 was a caricature of the world's tallest buildings, made cartoonish with seemingly careless construction from pipes and plasticine. It was a satirical jab at the exhibiting countries' competition to be the "best in the world."

The focus shifted from individual presentations to building upon specific details and differences in the Korean Pavilion. With that intention, the identity of South Korean art was conceptualized with the here and now of contemporary South Korean-ness, rather than by sifting through past traditions. Under the theme Landscape of Differences, the Korean Pavilion's structural, spatial, and local characteristics and furthermore the aesthetic and ideological differences between Bahc Yiso, Chung Seoyoung, and Inkie Whang inspired multiple dimensions of difference that gave the exhibition and its curation a distinct identity.

Bahc Yiso Souvenir from the Korean Pavilion at the 50th Venice Biennale. Courtesy of ARKO Arts Archive, Arts Council Korea Photo by CJYART STUDIO Junyong Cho
2005 / 51st
Secret beyond the door

Commissioner / Curator
Sunjung Kim

Artists
Kim Beom
Sora Kim
Gimhongsok
Nakyoung Sung
Sungsic Moon
Kiwon Park
Park Sejin
Bahc Yiso
Nakhee Sung
Bae Young-whan
Heinkuhn Oh
Jewyo Rhii
Yeondoo Jung
Choi Jeong Hwa
Ham Jin

Date
June 12 – November 6

The exhibition title was taken from Fritz Lang's 1948 namesake film. Breaking the conventional mold of a minimum number of artists, the commissioner Sunjung Kim invited the largest number in the Korean Pavilion's history. Kiwon Parkn transformed the walls of the venue into jade-colored fiberglass-reinforced-plastic partitions, and Nakhee Sung's mural painted directly on the pavilion's wall changed the overall atmosphere. Gimhongsok's Oval Talk, installed before it, resembled a large red egg. To the left of the red oval was Sora Kim's video installation, and on the wall were Kiwon Park's works, as well as photographic portraits of girls by Heinkuhn Oh. On the structure connecting the indoor exhibition space to the rear exit was Nakyoung Sung's mural, and on the second floor was Choi Jeong-Hwa's large installation Site of Desire made by stacking red rectangular plastic colanders.

Bahc Yiso made a posthumous return to the Biennale with World Chair–too spacious for a single seat, yet uncomfortable for two. World Chair was not so much a tribute to the artist as it was a symbol encouraging contemporary artists to seek emotional connections and share their conceptual attitudes. Jewyo Rhii did, however, commemorate his senior and advisor Bahc Yiso by daring himself to draw at the highest point of the Korean Pavilion, on the upper edge of the column and on the ceiling nearby. Kim Beom showed a reconstruction of TV news, and Ham Jin presented a miniature installation on the balcony, viewable through a magnifying glass, that drew curious visitors. Painter Sungsic Moon exhibited Rectangular Garden, while Sejin Park showcased Landscape. Young-whan Bae presented a work from the Pop Song series, which had already been introduced at the 2002 Gwangju Biennale, and Yeondoo Jung displayed Evergreen Tower. Additionally, Nakyoung Sung took the stage as a DJ during the opening party and delivered a music performance.

Bahc Yiso Exhibition Catalogue from the Korean Pavilion at the 51st Venice Biennale. Courtesy of ARKO Arts Archive, Arts Council Korea Photo by CJYART STUDIO Junyong Cho
2007 / 52nd
The Homo Species

Commissioner / Curator
Soyeon Ahn

Artist
Hyungkoo Lee

Date
June 10 – November 21

Website

Commissioner Soyeon Ahn chose Hyungkoo Lee, introducing the artist as "a highly conceptual sculptor who still believes in the value of handiwork and hard work." The Korean Pavilion opened with the title The Homo Species, with its exhibition space modified to resemble a museum of natural history and a laboratory. To create dramatic spatial effects, the exhibition space was divided into a completely darkened black room and a contrasting bright white room. Hyungkoo Lee presented a series titled The Objectuals, which distorts the human body utilizing optical devices, and the Animatus series, where personified imaginary cartoon characters are reconstructed into three-dimensional skeletons. Dimly lit corridors lead to a central hall where a bone sculpture depicting the chase scene from the cartoon Tom and Jerry is installed against entirely black walls, ceilings, and floors. Furthermore, he also exhibited a five-minute, 19-second performance video in which he wandered around Venice wearing an optical helmet from his The Objectuals series, and staged a performance in a glass-walled exhibition space on the opening day.

Ahn oversaw the Tiger's Tail exhibition held in Venice more than a decade ago in 1995, and Hyungkoo Lee was known in the community as an assistant under Ik-Joong Kang and hyung woo Lee at the 1997 Venice Biennale. As returnees to the Venetian venue, the commissioner and the artist focused their efforts on overcoming the limitations of the relatively small space and complex structure while maximizing the effects of the exhibition. Their answer was to completely block out all natural light into the exhibition space to create a lab-like ambiance. The artificially secluded space presented an uncanny contrast with the bright, natural setting of the Castello Gardens. The agenda of “selection and concentration” corresponded to the commissioner's appointment of Lee as the first sole exhibiting artist at the pavilion.

Bahc Yiso Exhibition view of the Korean Pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennale, Hyungkoo Lee, The Objectuals, Performance, 2007. Courtesy of ARKO Arts Archive, Arts Council Korea
2009 / 53rd
Condensation

Commissioner / Curator
Eungie Joo

Artist
Haegue Yang

Date
June 7 – November 22

Website

For the first time, the Korean Pavilion appointed a non-Korean as its commissioner: Eungie Joo, a Korean-American expatriate. Haegue Yang, who had been active primarily in Europe and Korea since studying abroad in Germany in 1994, had already garnered much attention through international exhibitions such as Manifesta 4 (2022) and the Carnegie International (2008), and domestic exhibitions such as the Hermès Foundation Missulsang (2003). When Eungie Joo initially selected and invited Haegue Yang to represent the Korean Pavilion, the artist reportedly declined participation due to doubts about whether art should represent a nation. Afterward, they tried to approach the exhibition differently and started by working together on a plan to execute part of the project in Korea for Korean audiences who could not travel to Venice.

In this context, as a preliminary step to the Biennale, the commissioner and artist framed a pre-project titled An Offering: Public Resource, for which they received donations of various books and archival materials from acquaintances in the art world. The collected materials, including 1,500 books and records, were showcased in the lobby of the Art Sonje Center from March 2009, preceding the exhibition in Venice, until December, following the conclusion of the Venice exhibition. Artist Choi Jeong Hwa was in charge of space design, and Sunjung Kim, the commissioner of the Korean Pavilion in 2005, collaborated on the project. Bae Young-whan, Doryun Chong Gimhongsok, Im Heung-soon, siren eun young jung, as well as Reality and Utterance, alongside other young artists and students, participated in this project, expanding the format of the national pavilion exhibition held in Venice.

Haegue Yang and Eungie Joo sought to create a supportive environment surrounding artistic production and explore innovative approaches to their work within the limits of the Biennale's spectacle. They also aimed to restore the “dignity” of the Korean Pavilion's architecture. They broke down the temporary walls, repaired damaged floors, and replaced leaky ceiling glass. This restoration was an essential part of the exhibition preparation. In this space, the artist led explorations of wind, natural light, the kitchen, the absence of locals, and mysterious scents.

Bahc Yiso Invitation from the Korean Pavilion Opening Ceremony at the 53rd Venice Biennale. Courtesy of ARKO Arts Archive, Arts Council Korea Photo by CJYART STUDIO Junyong Cho
2011 / 54th
The Love is gone, but the Scar will heal

Commissioner / Curator
Yun Cheagab

Artist
Lee Yongbaek

Date
June 4 – November 27

Website

Yun Cheagab presented media artist Lee Yongbaek in a solo exhibition entitled The Love Is Gone but the Scar Will Heal. Yun was an independent curator active throughout Asia including in South Korea, China, and India. As the commissioner, he wanted Lee's art to tell the story of pain and hope in Korea's modernization and cultural development.

Since the 1990s, Lee has been producing diverse forms of art using technology, and is widely recognized for work that captures the unique political and cultural issues of the time. For the Korean pavilion, he showed 14 major works ranging in genre from video and photography to sculpture and painting, taking advantage of the multifaceted and multi-layered structure of the Korean Pavilion. The video performance Angel Soldier, featuring a floral-patterned military fatigue, creates an extreme contrast between angel and soldier which conveys a candid representation of contemporary social situations. The floral fatigues hanging outdoors on the roof of the Korean Pavilion were a symbol of ceasefire and peace, and attracted many visitors.

Pieta: Self-death, then installed in the curved window space at the front of the pavilion, recreates the figures of Christ and the Virgin Mary with a molded figure being held by the mold that created it. The mold and the molded figure appear either to be engaged in a gruesome fight, or posed so as to depict the original Pietà, with the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Christ. Lee's video work Broken Mirror comprises a mirror and a flat screen which displays the viewer's reflection in the mirror before suddenly breaking with an ear-splitting shatter. At the opening ceremony, Korean Pavilion staff members donning the floral fatigues enacted a performance, and during the previews, the fatigues were spotted marching around the Giardini, drawing attention.

Bahc Yiso Exhibition view of the Korean Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale. Courtesy of ARKO Arts Archive, Arts Council Korea
2013 / 55th
To Breathe: Bottari

Commissioner / Curator
Seungduk Kim

Artist
Kimsooja

Date
June 1 – November 24

Website

Seungduk Kim was the commissioner, and Kimsooja was the selected artist. Both Kim’s left Korea early in their careers, worked in the United States and France, and were perceptive of changes in the international art scene. Within the special circumstances of the Venice Biennale, anthropological and literary concepts were effectively and successfully introduced into the indoor architectural setting of the Korean Pavilion. With Bottari as the title of the exhibition, the architecture of the Korean Pavilion was approached as a bottari (a traditional wrapping cloth), wrapping the outer wall—the boundary between the outdoor and indoor.

The bottari concept had been a regular theme for Kimsooja over three decades, and for the Biennale, she used a seemingly immaterial material to expand the notion to cover the entire structure. The architecture of the Korean Pavilion was presented as-is, while the translucent film wrapped over the outer surface as a conceptual bottari offered a curious and constantly changing prismatic experience. While visitors experienced refracted and changing light, the inner space of the Korean Pavilion was filled with The Weaving Factory 2004-2013, a sound performance featuring the breathing of the artist herself.

Meanwhile, To Breathe: Blackout created an encounter completely devoid of light and sound—an increasingly rare experience for the modern city-dwellers. The deprivation encourages thoughts on the most primitive of subjects, not least mortality. Due to space constraints, the deprivation chamber could only allow 1-3 entrants for 1-2 minutes at a time. By introducing visitors to the emptiness of space, the space itself functioned as art. Full, yet empty, boundlessly expanding inwards and outwards, not as an individual work but as the entirety of the space itself, visitors had to personally experience this piece. Yet not everyone has the means to visit Venice. The experience is digitally available on the Korean Pavilion website and through video records, albeit in a limited format.

Bahc Yiso Exhibition view of the Korean Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale, Kimsooja, To Breathe: Bottari, Mixed media installation, 2013. Courtesy of ARKO, Arts Council Korea and Kimsooja Studio Photo by Jaeho Chong
2015 / 56th
The Ways of Folding Space & Flying

Commissioner / Curator
Sook-Kyung Lee

Artists
Moon Kyungwon & Jeon Joonho

Date
May 9 – November 22

Website

Sook-Kyung Lee commissioned and curated the artistic duo Moon Kyungwon & Jeon Joonho in 2015. As Sook-Kyung Lee noted, "2015 marks the 20th anniversary for the Korean Pavilion. It is an opportunity to look back on what has been achieved, and also look onwards to new horizons." She shared her wish not only to deal with the more acute issues in contemporary art, but also to provide perspectives on changes to come. Coupled with the 2015 Biennale's theme of All the World's Futures, the artists' imagination allowed visitors to experience a future-retrospective.

Titled The Ways of Folding Space & Flying, the 2015 Venice Biennale Korean Pavilion exhibition made the most of the venue's structural specificity with a 7-channel film installation, the largest scale attempted by the duo. The Ways of Folding Space & Flying is a visual story of a post-apocalyptic future, the image wrapping the Korean Pavilion from the outside-in.

The world in which The Ways of Folding Space & Flying is set is a post-apocalyptic Earth of the future, where most of the world's landmass is submerged and only the Korean Pavilion has remained afloat like a buoy where Venice once stood. Chukjibeop, or, when literally translated, "ways of folding ground," is a concept originating from Taoist practice, a hypothetical method of contracting physical distance so as to cover a greater distance in less time. Out more simply, Bihaengsul, or "divination of levitation," means flying. An ambitious project by Moon Kyungwon & Jeon Joonho for the Venice Biennale, The Ways of Folding Space & Flying is not simply about a dystopian future in the manner of a typical sci-fi film backdrop, but ventures into the true meaning of what art can stand for in this contemporary age of uncertainty and instability, even if it may seem absurd at times, or is difficult to explain logically.

Bahc Yiso Web-Poster from the Korean Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale. Courtesy of The Korean Pavilion Curatorial Team at the 2015 Venice Biennale
2017 / 57th
Counterbalance: The Stone & The Mountain

Commissioner / Curator
Lee Daehyung

Artists
Lee Wan
Cody Choi

Date
May 13 – November 26

Website

Just prior to the 2017 exhibition, the official title of “commissioner” of the Korean Pavilion changed to “curator”. An open call system was also adopted as a new way of selecting “curator” by Arts Council Korea. Lee Daehyung, art director of Hyundai Motor Company at the time, named Lee Wan and Cody Choi as the two artists to represent the Korean Pavilion in his exhibition proposal presented during the review of open call applications and followed through with his proposal upon selection. In addition to the two artists, Lee Daehyung adopted “Mr. K” as the third voice of the exhibition entitled Counterbalance: The Stone and the Mountain. “Mr. K” served as the figure embodying the exhibition concept as well as a critical figure in one of Lee Wan’s works that takes its title from him. Through the life of the late Mr. Kim Kimoon, to whom the 1,412 photographs Lee Wan purchased in Hwanghak-dong for the trivial sum of 50,000 KRW (less than 50 USD) belonged, Lee Wan showed not only an individual’s life full of fierce battles but also the process of Korea’s modernization. Lee Wan presented six works in total, including Mr. K and the Collection of Korean History and Proper Time.

Cody Choi presented a large neon light installation entitled Venetian Rhapsody on the façade of the Korean Pavilion as an attempt to overcome the building’s spatial limitations. The installation that drew from the symbolic images of Las Vegas and Macao was a lampoon of “casino-capitalism” that had also laid roots in the international art circle. While examining the geo-cultural characteristics of Venice where art and commercialism go hand in hand, Choi came to realize that Venice makes artists chase rainbows and that artists (including himself), collectors, galleries, and curators participating in the Venice Biennale are swayed by it, making bluffs.

Each belonging to a different generation, Choi and Lee created an interesting narrative that corresponds with the concept of “counterbalance,” cutting through the three-generation perspective of “grandfather-father-son.” Though this trigenerational framework was criticized in South Korea as “convoluted,” foreign media raced to name Counterbalance: The Stone and the Mountain as an exhibition not to be missed. Visitors from around the world commented that “the exhibition took an illuminating approach of converging “trans-national” and “trans-generational” issues, thereby revealing that the issues of Korea, Asia, and the world are closely interlinked.”

Bahc Yiso Eco Bag Project from the Korean Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale. Provenance: 2017 Venice Biennale Korean Pavilion Blog(Naver)
2019 / 58th
History Has Failed Us, But No Matter

Commissioner / Curator
Hyunjin Kim

Artists
Hwayeon Nam
siren eun young jung
Jane Jin Kaisen

Date
May 11- November 24

Website

Independent curator Hyunjin Kim led the 2019 Korean Pavilion exhibition and invited Hwayeon Nam, siren eun young jung, and Jane Jin Kaisen as the participating artists. The exhibition borrowed its title, History Has Failed Us, but No Matter, from the first sentence of Min Jin Lee’s novel Pachinko (2017) and staged those who were banished, veiled, forgotten, abandoned, and condemned by history as the principal voices of a new narrative. The exhibition attracted attention with all of its participants being women, possibly appearing as a narrative that reversed the male-centric history presented by the Korean Pavilion’s previous exhibition in 2017 or as a preview of The Milk of Dreams, the main exhibition of the 2022 Venice Biennale. Kim stated, “We have recently witnessed expansions in ways the history of modernization is read, written, and imagined anew, thanks to the language and imaginative power of visual arts. I believe the main engine that will drive such change more innovatively is gender diversity.”

Hwayeon Nam presented A Garden in Italy and Dancer from the Peninsula, which contemplates the dance and unusual trace of the life of Choi Seung-hee, a modern female artist who was in conflict with and broke free from nationalism amidst colonization and the Cold War. siren eun young jung produced a multichannel video installation entitled A Performing by Flash, Afterimage, Velocity, and Noise, which follows the most talented surviving male-role yeoseong gukgeuk (a genre of Korean theater featuring only women actors) actor Lee Deung Woo and examines the aesthetics and political nature behind the works of later performers who carried on the genealogy of contemporary queer performance. Jane Jin Kaisen’s new work for the Korean Pavilion was Community of Parting, which reframed the shamanic myth of Princess Bari as the root of diasporic women in the process of modernization, thereby interpreting the legend as a story that transcends divisions and borders.

Through these research-based works, History Has Failed Us, but No Matter unfolded a multifarious video narrative that delved into the deep and long-standing layers of the history of modernization in East Asia. The three artists’ unique video installations also incorporated dynamic visibility, tactile sound, colorful light and rhythm, while working with the surrounding architectural structure based on organic curves, thus highlighting the “placeness” of the Korean Pavilion on the whole.

Bahc Yiso Exhibition view of the Korean Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale. Courtesy of ARKO Arts Council Korea
2022 / 59th
Gyre

Commissioner / Curator
Young-chul Lee

Artist
Yunchul Kim

Date
April 23 – November 27

Website

The Korean Pavilion's exhibition, themed around Gyre, illustrated the swollen boundary between the tumultuous present and the emerging era. Initially, seven works were planned to be exhibited under three themes: The Swollen Sun, The Path of Gods, and The Great Outdoors. However, to better align with the architectural structure of the Korea Pavilion and the ambiance of the surrounding environment, the exhibition was revised to showcase six works, including one on-site drawing and three new installation pieces. Notably, for the first time in the history of the Korea Pavilion, the ceiling was completely removed to maximize the harmony between light and the artworks. Curator Young-chul Lee described the presentation as "a space-specific exhibition where the artworks and the space breathe as one, revealing both the inside and outside of the Korean Pavilion."

After majoring in electronic music in South Korea, Yunchul Kim studied abroad in Germany under composer Wolfgang Rihm , where he transitioned to experimental visual media, focusing on the study of media art. He explored the "potential properties of matter" and studied photonic crystals and metamaterials. The artist introduced the exhibition, stating, "In this exhibition, nameless materials are connected to the universe, space, and the viewers in their own right, regardless of their use or value. I intended to demonstrate a new era of many suns rather than the absoluteness of a single sun, and a new sense swirling and awakening herein.” The exhibition, structured around three themes, The Swollen Sun, The Path of Gods, and The Great Outdoors, projected the labyrinthine world through the entanglement of nameless materials, mechanical devices of unknown purposes, microcosms, and cosmic events, and presented a narrative in which the exhibition space is transformed into a horizon teeming with events of creation through the flow of objects, humans, sensations, and meanings. The Art Newspaper selected Korea, along with the United States, Belgium, Canada, France, the Nordic countries, and Romania, as the seven must-see national pavilions at the Venice Biennale.

Bahc Yiso Exhibition view of the Korean Pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale, Yunchul Kim, Chroma V, Chromatic Kinetic Installation, 2022. Courtesy of the artist, Photo by Roman März
2024 / 60th
Odorama Cities

Commissioner / Curator
Seolhui Lee
Jacob Fabricius

Artist
Koo Jeong A

Date
April 20 – November 24

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KOO JEONG A (they/them) is constantly in orbit, living and working everywhere. In their practice, architectural elements, texts, drawings, paintings, sculptures, animations, sound, film, words, and scents play a significant role. Throughout the years, KOO has investigated and blurred the lines between their artwork and the space it occupies. The works add new layers to any given space, and KOO manages to merge small intimate experiences and large- scale immersive pieces.

The curatorial approach for the Korean Pavilion at the 60th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia has been to combine some of the key subjects and sculptural elements that KOO JEONG A has worked with during the last three decades. With the new commission ODORAMA CITIES, created especially for the Korean Pavilion, KOO delves into the nuances of our spatial encounters, investigating how we perceive and recollect spaces, with a particular emphasis on how scents, smells, and odors contribute to these memories. With the pavilion itself, KOO explores an expanded tactility.

Some of the prominent interests in KOO’s art, such as immaterialism, weightlessness, endlessness, and levitation, are keywords mirrored throughout the Korean Pavilion. They are embedded and engraved as infinity symbols directly into both the new wooden floor and the outdoor installations, are manifested as two floating wooden möbius-shaped sculptures and a levitating, scent-diffusing bronze figure, and finally are symbolized in the scents that transform the pavilion into a collection of olfactory memories.

These scent memories are a cornerstone in ODORAMA CITIES. During the summer of 2023, KOO collected them with the aim of making a scent portrait of the Korean peninsula. Through social media, advertisements, press releases, and personal one-on-one meetings, the team behind the Korean Pavilion has reached out to North and South Koreans and non-Koreans alike – anyone who has a relationship to Korea – and asked the question: “What is your scent memory of Korea?” This open call has generated more than 600 written statements about Korean scents. The perfumers, armed with the stories and keywords, took on the task of interpreting and incorporating them into the creation of 16 distinct scent experiences for the pavilion and a single commercial fragrance.

Bahc Yiso Web-Poster(Instagram) from the Korean Pavilion at the 60th Venice Biennale Courtesy of The Korean Pavilion Curatorial Team at the 2024 Venice Biennale