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Copyright all right reserved 2008 Cho Duck Hyun

  Cho Duck–Hyun _ Ann Landi 2008/09/01
Cho Duck–Hyun

Ann Landi

The art of Cho Duck-Hyun is about history, nostalgia, romance, identity, family, and spirituality. Like many adventurous contemporary artists, he is not content to confine his activities to one medium, and has at various points in the course of his career made compelling work in the fields of painting, photography, performance art, and even earthworks. Furthermore he has adapted certain strategies and aesthetics of Western art without sacrificing his deep roots in Korean culture.

Cho, who was born in 1957, had a relatively late start as an artist, earning his master of fine arts degree in 1987, followed by his first solo show a year later. But by the time of his debut as an artist he had acquired a thorough grounding in classical figuration and traditional approaches to painting, and had married the skills of an Old Master with the vision of a contemporary chronicler, thoroughly aware of some of the tensions that still exist between East and West. Much of his student work seems astonishingly assured, and as other critics have noted, he clearly learned much from studying the giants of European art, painters like Edgar Degas and Caravaggio. There is perhaps a certain autobiographical impulse behind a work like (1985), which shows Michelangelo’s powerful figure of Isaiah from the Sistine Ceiling gazing benignly from the right side of the painting down at the young man in the lower left, who is posed like Adam from the The Creation of Adam, the central ceiling fresco from the chapel. But the Korean figure (perhaps a self-portrait, or at least a stand-in for the artist?) is broken into fragments, blocks of pure color for the figure juxtaposed with realistic depictions of a face and hands. There is a feeling of indecision about this work, as though the artist were toying with options and perhaps even Oedipal conflicts, asking how to break away from the stern and confident father figure who looks at the younger man almost in disdain.

Other works from Cho’s student years, though remarkably assured and polished, show him grappling with other Western icons–Cézanne’s apples, Ingres’ Odalisque, Warhol’s Marilyn–the fragments contained within strict gridlike arrangements borrowed from the American Minimalist movement. He also flirts with political statements: the late 1980s were a time of violent clashes between an authoritarian government and Korean students and workers. Two works entitled from this period show faces in pain and protest tied together by strings that seem to act as both gags and restraints.

Cho began to hit his stride as a mature artist when he turned to a profoundly moving kind of history painting around 1990. Other artists of the period–notably the Europeans Gerhard Richter and Christian Boltanski–looked to old photographs and to history to exhume and reconcile an often fraught relationship with the recent past. Like those two contemporary masters, Cho makes images based on photographs that resonate in a particularly haunting and eerie way. In and (both 1990), the artist brings home the terrible horrors of war through drawings in graphite and charcoal of the excavation of executed bodies found in a North Korean air-raid shelter and of a group of small boys playing on top of an abandoned tank. The austere gridded “frames” and the inclusion of real objects in both works puts the images at a poignant remove without completely undercutting their power, and there is something chilling about the inclusion of military insignia in –the jaunty geometric shapes and smiling boys can’t ever really gloss over the real cost of warfare.

Cho continued with the “Memory” series over the next few years, producing more drawings based on old photographs of Korean families. Somehow, no matter what one’s nationality, these are like everyone’s ancestral history–both remote and familiar, formal and accessible. With the birth of a daughter in 1991, Cho turned his attention to the lives of women in Korean society. The heroic drawings from present their anonymous subjects as dignified and regal, even if the anonymous portrait is of a leather-faced old woman, whose ravaged but serene visage seems to have witnessed more than her share of sorrows.
The artist could easily have continued in this vein, cementing a reputation as one of his country’s most capable and intriguing realists, but a restless temperament seems to lead him in other, more surprising directions, thematically tied together by roots in Korean history. For the project known as , Cho created the remnants of and documentation for a mythical kingdom, a legendary culture guarded by packs of pointy-eared iron dogs (in reality, the dogs are made of fiberglass and buried by the artist and his assistants, then dug up as “performance pieces” at museums). No matter that this is a fairytale landscape, invented in photography and film, with the dogs serving as a metaphor for the traces of a nomadic society. As one curator has pointed out, Cho’s project is “about memory and what we forget, and the construction of history as layers of narrative.”

Another of Cho’s forays into narrative–“performance piece” seems way too limiting a label–takes as its subject the history of a shipwrecked Dutch sailor named Hendrick Hamel, who spent 13 years in Korea against his will until he managed to escape to Japan in 1666. Hamel kept a journal of his experiences, which offered the only information about Korean society available to 17th-century Europeans. Together with a video team and some of his students from the art college of Ewha Women’s University, Cho drove along the route that Hamel and his partners followed on horseback in 1654 between the port city of Haenam in the south and the capital of Seoul. Along the way, as the artist recounted, they “attempted to steep [themselves] in the emotions and experiences of Hamel” three and a half centuries ago. They collected antiques and other objects the Dutch sailor might have had in his possession–musical instruments, a bronze kettle, iron scissors, a calligraphy board. These were displayed by the artist’s son in a series of photographs, and then later tossed into the waters of Lingehaven Harbor near where Hamel’s house once stood in the Dutch port of Gorinchem. The objects were later retrieved by divers and offered up as evidence of Hamel’s adventures. The project, known as , is an artistic exercise in archeology, an imaginative recreation of history that gets its power from evocation rather than a bland recitation of the facts.

Cho’s narrative impulse continued in his latest installation, , which brought together his skills as a painter and draftsman, his interest in the history of Korean women, and his flair for provocative showmanship. tells the story of two 20th-century women whose biographies diverged in different ways and whose experiences of their homeland reflect the tensions and longings of anyone who tries to leave her culture behind. Born in 1928, Nora Noh (whose original name was Noh Myung-Ja), left for the United States at the age of 19 to study fashion design. She returned to Korea an independent woman, a revolutionary who introduced sophisticated contemporary style and Western glamour to a culture still steeped in both traditional roles and conservative dress for women.

Cho documented parts of her journey on the ground floor of the gallery, but as one ascended the stairs to the second story, quite a different life unfolded: this was the biography-to-date of Joeong-shun Lee, who was born and educated in Japan, but moved to the U.S. in the 1970s. She met and fell in love with the Viscount Rothermere, CEO of a major English newspaper, The Daily Mail. After their marriage in 1993, Joeong-shun Lee became titled aristocracy and devoted herself to charitable causes. When her husband died in 1998, she left half his cremated ashes in England and transported the rest to be rested in Baek-Ryun-Sa temple in Muju, Korea–Lee’s mother’s final resting place and eventually hers as well. Cho’s “homage” to Viscountess Rothermere included full-length portraits, drawings, videos, and a mysterious space containing a glowing white lotus (Baek-Ryun-Sa was built on the site of a lotus pond).        

As in previous projects, Cho’s re-creation of the lives of these two remarkable women–one who brought the West to her homeland, the other who still yearns to be reunited with the customs of Korea–is achieved through disparate means, allowing the viewer to make his or her own connections and providing a rich ambience for reflection and visceral understanding. Traditional means of narration are trumped by richly atmospheric storytelling that nevertheless provides the satisfactions of the age-old pleasures of artmaking–first-class draftsmanship, an understanding of the how the parts relate to the whole, and a certain mystery that lifts the work from the simply satisfying into the realm of the magical.


23   From History to Memory_ Jiyoon Lee  
22   Butterfly Dreams, Mirrors and Mountains / Notes for Duck Hyun Cho: re-collection _ Pontus Kyander  
21   나비 꿈, 거울과 산 / 조 덕현을 위한 기록 : 리-컬렉션 _ 폰투스 키안더  
20   조덕현의 전시: 리콜렉션 re-colllection _ 신지영  
19   역사에서 기억까지 _ 이지윤  
18   The Scattered Puzzle Pieces _ Dae-Beom Lee  
17   흩어진 퍼즐 조각 _ 이대범  
16   Re-collection : Walking down two women's paths _ Jiyoung Shin  
  Cho Duck–Hyun _ Ann Landi  
14   조덕현 _ Ann Landi  
13   Ontmoeting: (Trans) fusion of Landscape Portraiture and History Painting by Use of a Symbolical Device in Cho Duck Hyun's Digital Photo-Images _ Inhee Iris Moon  
12   A moral proposal _ Patrick T. Murphy  
11   Two Mysteries Colliding _ Chtistopher French  
10   Leaning forward, Looking back – Jeff Kelly  
9   Restoration of Civilization _ Yongwoo Lee  
8   Reversing the Historical Imagination _ Young June Lee  
7   Entering Yiseoguk _ Choi Won Oh  
6   Cho Duck-Hyun – biographer of illusions _ Jan Donia  
5   From an Alien Past _ Hyunok Jung  
4   이중성의 전략과 경계의 미학 위에서 _ 김홍희  
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