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Kwon Jin Kyu: The Reliefs

Kwon Jin Kyu

Installation view of Kwon Jin Kyu, The Reliefs at PKM+. Courtesy of PKM Gallery

PKM Gallery is pleased to announce the opening of Kwon Jin Kyu: The Reliefs from November 14th to December 9th. This year marksthe 50th anniversary of Kwon Jin Kyu’s passing (1922-1973) and coincides with the introduction of his significant works to the public through a permanent exhibition Kwon Jin Kyu Forever Home at the Nam-Seoul Museum of Art. As a fitting conclusion to this meaningful year, PKM Gallery showcases a special program that spotlights the artist’s terracotta relief creations.

Kwon Jin Kyu, 작품 Work, ca. 1966

Kwon Jin Kyu is a pioneering figure in modern and contemporary Korean sculpture, dedicated to establishing the concept of ‘Korean realism’. Throughout his lifetime, he crafted a diverse array of three-dimensional works, each bearing his distinctive artistic language that transcended the boundaries between Eastern and Western, traditional and modern, conceptual and abstract art. In the works he developed as a result of his deep observation into the true essence lying beneath the surface of objects, one can discern the enduring spirit and sublime beauty that continue to resonate. Kwon’s choice of clay-baking, ‘terracotta’, was an important method in his artistic expression. This technique, rooted in ancient traditions, provided him with a unique freedom, as it withstands the test of time in contrast to materials like bronze or iron that tend to deteriorate over the years.

Kwon Jin Kyu, 작품 Work, 1966

Kwon Jin Kyu: The Reliefs presents eight terracotta relief works produced in the mid-1960s. Kwon’s earnest exploration of terracotta sculpture began in 1964 as he renovated the kiln in his Dongseon-dong Atelier, and for the reason that many ancient sculptures, including those from Greece, Maya, and Goguryeo, were created as reliefs. Kwon’s artistic focus was on nature and objects, which he structurally simplified. The Work series, a terracotta collection featuring birds and flowers as motifs, metaphorically embodies nature’s vitality through the symbolic representation of wings and pistils and stamens. Kwon also emphasized tactile qualities by incorporating varying heights and textures in his reliefs, showcasing his mastery of the terracotta.

Kwon Jin Kyu, 작품 Work, 1967

Bracket Set (1965) represents the dialogue between Kwon and Korean tradition. In ancient Korean architecture, a ‘bracket’ was a parquetry element woven into the top of a pillar to support the weight of the eaves. In fact, Kwon extensively explored cultural relics throughout the country, documenting various architectural elements in photographs and drawings. Bracket Set is a semi-abstract relief piece based on the archives, created by inserting terracotta segments into plasterboard and painting them in black and red. Another displayed work, Mask (ca. 1966), reflects the artist’s commitment to reinterpreting traditional folk items with a modern aesthetic. In other words, Kwon’s artistic endeavors aimed to uncover enduring beauty rooted in the past but capable of lasting into the future.

Kwon Jin Kyu, 가면 Mask, ca. 1966

Through this exhibition, PKM Gallery invites viewers to discover Kwon’s sense of aesthetics which transcends time and society.

Born in Hamhung, North Korea in 1922, Kwon Jin Kyu encountered art at the Hamhung Art Research Institute and the Seongbuk Painting Research Institute after the liberation of Korea. In 1949, he entered the Department of Sculpture at Musashino Art University in Tokyo and learned the latest formative techniques from Takashi Shimizu, a student of Emile Antoine Bourdelle. He gained high recognition in Japan, as evidenced by consecutive special prizes at Nikaten, one of the prestigious exhibitions. However, Kwon returned to Korea in 1959 and continued to work on universal formative beauty, which was contrary to the trend of Western abstract sculpture at the time. Before his death in 1973, he held three solo exhibitions: at the Press Center Gallery (1965), Tokyo Nihonbashi Gallery (1968), and Myeondong Gallery (1971), but did not participate in institutive group exhibitionslike Korean National Art Exhibition. Retrospective exhibitions were held after
his passing at several museums, including the Ho-Am Art Museum (Yongin, Korea), the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (Seoul, Korea), and the Tokyo National Museum of Modern Art (Tokyo, Japan). In 2021, the artist’s bereaved family donated 141 works to the Seoul Museum of Art, and a large-scale retrospective exhibition was held the following spring in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the artist’s birth. In the summer of 2023, a permanent exhibition space solely dedicated to the artist was constructed at the Nam-Seoul Museum of Art.


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