Perrotin opens a solo exhibition by Shim Moon-Seup

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Perrotin opens a solo exhibition by Shim Moon-Seup
View of Shim Moon-Seup’s exhibition at Perrotin Paris, 2023. Photo: Claire Dorn. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin.

PARIS.- Perrotin is presenting for the first time in Paris a solo exhibition by Shim Moon-Seup following his presentation at Perrotin Hong Kong in 2022. The show displays a set of thirteen paintings, a selection of drawings and two sculptures.

Nature is too strong. It shouldn’t express itself unchanged. You have to work on it and with it, but gently. This is the role of the sculptor. -- Shim Moon-Seup

Shim Moon-Seup was born in 1943 in Tongyeong, a peninsula Shim Moon-Seup was born in 1943 in Tongyeong, a peninsula surrounded by islands on Korea’s south coast. Although he graduated from Seoul National University in 1965, participated in numerous international exhibitions, and, since 1992, has divided his time between Paris and his hometown, this pioneer of contemporary Korean sculpture remains deeply influenced by the maritime environment where his artistic vocation first emerged. The formative proximity to nature and the cyclical movement of the tides continue to inspire his sculptures, installations, and paintings. He experienced his first success at the 1969 National Art Exhibition of Korea (gukjeon), a highly influential event in South Korea. Shim Moon-Seup used stainless steel and acrylic for his explicitly anti-academic works, breaking with prevalent sculptural norms. His gukjeon awards, as well as his participation in collectives such as the Third Formative Association (Je sam johyeong hoe), which he co-founded in 1969, and the influential Korean Avant- Garde Association (Hanguk avant garde hyeobhoe), which he joined in 1970, quickly cemented his status as a major figure in the Korean art world.

Shim Moon-Seup was strongly influenced by Lee Ufan (b. 1936), who brought structure and method to a scattered Korean art world that was little inclined to theoretical reflection. In the early 1970s, he developed a practice close to Mono-ha, the Japanese avant-garde movement of which Lee Ufan was one of the leading theorists. This new type of work helped Shim Moon-Seup launch a brilliant international career. He exhibited in Japan and participated in the Paris Biennale of 1971, 1973, and 1975. His Relation works were created using simple materials such as paper, stone, metal tubes, wire, steel, cement, and tree trunks. The arrangement of several elements in relation to each other produced a new perception of space, establishing a dialogue between the materials in their raw and modified states. Shim Moon-Seup altered pre-existing objects, leaving his mark by tearing paper or working minimalistically with wood, often using simple beams. He thus established some of the principles, derived in part from Taoism and Zen Buddhism, that govern his work to this day: the search for balance between different elements, the rejection of sculpture understood primarily as plastic research, and the desire to allow each material to express itself.

He later expanded his vocabulary while staying true to these foundations. Since the 1980s, he has regularly used clay to produce basic geometric forms, mainly cubes and slabs. He experiments with the material’s elasticity by bending and folding it, sometimes pushing it to its limits, emphasizing its properties while minimizing the artist’s involvement. The shapes of some clay works are strongly reminiscent of those in the Wood Deity series, which serves as a counterpart to Thoughts on Clay. Here, Shim Moon-Seup explores the expressive nature of clay, which seemingly leaves little room for the sculptor. With wood, by contrast, the artist can allow the material to freely express itself while leaving a visible mark. This involves a patient treatment of the surfaces, usually slightly uneven, and the assembly of various heterogeneous shapes. These sculptures are Shim Moon-Seup’s most classical works, even though they are frequently included in larger installations. Moreover, their presentation at floor level, untreated appearance, and titles are reminiscent of sacred idols rather than works to be displayed in cultural institutions. Shim Moon-Seup’s diverse works persistently challenge the very definition of sculpture, combining wood, stone, water, steel, aluminum, optical fibers, polyurethane, and cotton, sometimes in monumental installations.

In addition to using a variety of materials, Shim Moon-Seup has also produced numerous two-dimensional works. His first major achievement in this field was the Opening Up series, exhibited at the 1975 Paris Biennale. Here, he introduced the concept of time by materializing traces of wear and tear on stretcher-mounted canvases, which he then sandpapered, emphasizing the elements’ physical properties. These works reflect the practices of the key figures of dansaekhwa, an artistic movement in which the interaction with the work and the creative process take precedence over the visual result. Shim Moon-Seup further expanded his artistic repertoire by producing sketches and photographs, sometimes finishing them with ink. His main contribution to the field of graphic arts, however, is a prolific series of canvas paintings, which he began in 2002; his French studio was simply too small to devote himself solely to sculpture and installations.

For Shim Moon-Seup, these oil paintings are not fundamentally different from his sculptures. The combination of large-format works, in which viewers can immerse themselves, and simple compositions based on identical, repetitive gestures suggests the existence of a space beyond the canvas. In a style derived from the calligraphy Shim Moon-Seup studied in his youth, the brushstrokes and the exact repetition of movements express the artist’s individuality – his spirit (Gil in Korean). This spirit permeates not only the artwork but, according to an Asian conception of the world, all things. This cosmological dimension in the painter’s practice is also reflected in the repetition of his movements, evoking and identifying with the cycles that animate the universe. His work’s rootedness in traditional culture is further underlined by the bold use of monochrome on the canvasses and the layers of paint of varying intensity, from light to dark, allowing the artist to rediscover the chromatic nuances of ink and the classical processes of applying it to paper. This repetitive element also evokes the waves that had such a lasting influence on the artist’s sensibility. The dominant blue tones are a reference to his past and the sea, which he carries within him, and which have taught him to both look at nature and collaborate with it.

Mael Bellec
Curator of Chinese and Korean Art at the Musée Cernuschi

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