In ART, General

During the run of the Venice Biennale, major exhibitions are staged in the many world-class institutions of the city. This year was no exception with retrospectives by Luc Tuymans taking over at Palazzo Grassi, Arshile Gorky at Ca’ Pesaro, Sean Scully at the Church of San Giorgio di Maggiore, Yun Hyong-keun at Palazzo Fortuny and the formidable Jannis Kounellisat the Fondazione Prada.

Here are selections top 3 picks of these important surveys currently on view in Venice:

Overview of the mezzanine. Each Yun Hyong-keun, Burnt Umber & Ultramarine, 1997, Oil on linen Courtesy: The Estate of Yun Hyong-keun Image Copyright: Laziz Hamani.

Yun Hyong-keun
Palazzo Fortuny
11 May – 24 November 2019

“True sorrow is connected tp true beauty.”
Yun Hyong-Keun’s diary entry from 17 August 1988

The MMCA (National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Korea) and MUVE (Civic Museums of Venice) have jointly staged a major retrospective of Korean artist Yun Hyong-keun (1928-2007) curated by Kim Inhye of the MMCA. The exhibition spans sixty years of Hyong-keun’s career and focuses on the artist’s life as ‘witness to key events in Korean history,’ as this relates to Japanese colonial rule, the Korean war and the post-war dictatorship that has since ensued.

Born in Miwon-ri, Chungcheongbuk-do, Korea, Hyong-keun received his BFA from the School of Fine Arts at Hongik University, Seoul in 1957. He became associated with the influential Tansaekhwa (monochromatic painting) movement in the 1960s which saw Korean artists who experiment with the physical properties of painting and prioritised technique and process. Yun was part of a generation deeply affected by the effects of The Korean War (1950-1953) and the country’s relative isolation from the international art world which ‘led artists to construct their own sets of rules and structures in relation to abstraction.’ The exhibition brings together early drawings, paintings, an expansive photography archive as well as a recreation of the artist’s atelier with the inclusion of works by other artists including Kim Whanki, Jeon Roe-jin and Choi Jongtae.

Solo exhibition at Muramatsu Gallery, Japan, 1976 Courtesy: The Estate of Yun Hyong-keun Image Copyright: Yun Seong-ryeol.

Presented across the ground and upper floor galleries of Palazzo Fortuny, the exhibition explores Yun’s painterly investigations into the relationship between beauty, pain and suffering with his signatory monolithic oil on linen paintings. Divided into three key chapters: ‘The Gate of Heaven and Earth (1970s-1980s),’ ‘The Utmost Depth and Simplicity (1980s-1990s),’ and ‘The World of Yun Hyong-keun (1980s-2007), each section gives an insight to Hyong-keun’s lifelong quest to master simplification in his painting practice and his experimentation with variant shades of black painted with wide brush-strokes on large-scale linen or cotton canvases. A stand out work Burnt Umber (1980) depicts falling blocks of black monoliths and is a work the artist created as a response to the Gwangju Massacre of May 1980, popular known as the Gwangju Uprising when citizens of the city took up arms to demonstrate the unjust treatment by the government of Chonnam University students protesting martial law.

Jannis Kounellis
Fondazione Prada
Ca’ Corner della Regina
May 11 – November 2019

Currently on view at Fondazione Prada in Venice is “Jannis Kounellis”, a major retrospective dedicated to the Greek-Italian artist who passed away in 2017 and who was one of the leading figures of the Arte Povera movement. Curated by Germano Celant, an Italian art historian, critic and curator who coined the term “Arte Povera” (poor art) in 1967, this expansive and important exhibition is developed in collaboration with Archivio Kounellis and surveys Kounellis’s ground-breaking works from 1965 to 2017. Incorporating familiar everyday objects and materials including clothes, cupboards, cotton, soap, coffee, coal, cacti, jute sacks and so on, Kounellis often highlighted the importance of the drama present in his works and stated: ‘If you take drama away from form you are left with formalism.’ He further explains, ‘Without drama, art becomes merely an industrial affair.’

“Jannis Kounellis” Curated by Germano Celant, Fondazione Prada, Venezia 11 May – 24 November 2019. Photo: Agostino Osio - Alto Piano Courtesy Fondazione Prada. Jannis Kounellis, Untitled, 2011 coats, hats, shoes. In the background Jannis Kounellis, Untitled (Giallo), 1965 oil on canvas.

In the current exhibition, there is drama aplenty, and this is most evident in his large-scale installations realised towards the end of the 1980s (untitled, 1988), his ingenious fire-writing series of the 1960s when he began exploring and documenting combustion as a central theme in his work, and an intervention from 1993-2008 made up of different coloured closets and forms hanging from the ceiling. This exhibition is an important exploration of Kounellis’s evolution as an artist who has a lifelong commitment to expressing fragmentations of the real and the everyday.

Sean Scully HUMAN
Church of San Giorgio di Maggiore
8 May – 13 October 2019

Presented in collaboration with the Abbazia di San Giorgio Maggiore and curated by Javier Molins, HUMAN brings Irish/American painter Sean Scully’s signatory abstract paintings, watercolours, drawings and a new sculpture, Opulent Ascension, 2019, (his tallest sculpture to date) in conversation with the grandeur renaissance architecture and vast collection of illuminated manuscripts of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore.

Opulent Acsension, 2019 by Sean Scully. Photo source: Artist website.

Opulent Ascension is the first work encountered when entering into this exhibition. It is a monumental sculpture comprising of dozens of brightly coloured square frames stacked one on top of another rising from floor to ceiling and located beneath the churches’ dome. Amidst the paintings, watercolours, an illuminated manuscript, burnt sculpture and additional works throughout the island’s gardens and the church’s adjoining building, there is a surprise return to figuration by Scully with the triptych Madonna, a stunning and vivid three-part portrait series painted on oil that depicts his son and fourth wife. HUMAN shows the diversity of Scully’s explorations into beauty, colour, figuration and abstraction.

The exhibition coincides with several major exhibitions of the artist’s work across the world in 2019, including landmark shows in the Albertina Museum in Vienna, the Wadsworth Atheneum in Connecticut, USA, the National Gallery in London, and the LWL Museum in Münster.

Catch Yun Hyong-keun, and Jannis Kounellis until the 24th of November, 2019.

HUMAN is running until 13th October, 2019.