Ikon presents the first UK solo show of works by Korean artist Lee Bul. This survey of early drawings, studies, sculptural pieces and ambitious installations – including a new commission made especially for Ikon – showcases the visually compelling and intellectually sharp works which have established Lee Bul as one of the most important artists of her generation.
Born in 1964, under the military dictatorship of South Korea, Lee Bul graduated in sculpture from Hongik University during the late 1980s. Her works became preoccupied with politics, delving into the many forms of idealism that permeate our civilisations, and from the beginning she created works that crossed genres and disciplines in provocative ways. Early street performance-based pieces saw Lee Bul wearing full-body soft sculptures which were both alluring and grotesque. Her later female Cyborg sculptures of the 1990s drew upon art history, critical theory, science fiction and popular imagination to explore anxieties arising out of dysfunctional technological advances, whilst simultaneously harking back to icons of classical sculpture.
Lee Bul’s more recent works have similarly dual concerns; at once forward-looking yet retrospective, seductive but suggestive of ruin. Sculptures suspended like chandeliers, elaborate assemblages that glimmer with crystal beads, chains and mirrors, poignantly evoke castles in the air. The sculptures reflect utopian architectural schemes of the early twentieth century as well as images of totalitarianism from Lee Bul’s early experiences. Mon grand récit: Weep into stones … (2005), with its mountainous topography is reminiscent of skyscrapers described by Hugh Ferriss in his book The Metropolis of Tomorrow (1929). Scaffolding supports several scale model structures: a looping highway made of bent plywood, a tiny Tatlin’s Monument, a modernist staircase that features in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, and an upturned cross-section of the Hagia Sophia.
Alongside these seminal works is a new commission made possible through the Art Fund International scheme in collaboration with Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and The New Art Gallery Walsall. After Bruno Taut (Devotion to Drift) alludes to the architect Bruno Taut (1880–1938), a great influence on Lee Bul’s works. The suspended sculpture, dripping with an excess of crystalline shapes and glass beads, references the exponential growth and unsustainability of the modern world. Unlike Taut’s early twentieth century optimism, Lee Bul conjures up beautiful dreams she knows won’t come true.
This exhibition is organised in collaboration with the Korean Cultural Centre UK , EACC Castellón and Musée d’art moderne et contemporain Saint-Étienne Métropole and supported by the Korea Foundation; Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong; Galerie Thaddeaus Ropac and PKM Gallery.
In conjunction with Ikon’s exhibition, the Korean Cultural Centre (KCC) UK in London presents a large-scale floor installation entitled Diluvium (13 September – 1 November 2014). Lee Bul has created a new version of the work, which is specifically designed for the exhibition space of KCC.
A major new publication accompanies the exhibition, priced £12, special exhibition price £9.95, with essays by Jonathan Watkins, Ikon Director and Lorand Hegyi, Director of Musée d’art moderne et contemporain Saint-Étienne Métropole. Visit Ikon’s online shop for the full range of Ikon’s catalogues and limited editions.