Airport, please! A visit to the impeccable Axel Vervoordt’s Hong Kong gallery
For more than half a century, Axel Vervoordt’s relationship to art and antiques has been a way for him to share his flawless perception and aesthetic. He believes the best way to fully inhabit a space is to be surrounded by architecture, furniture, art, and objects that represent the honesty of their materials and the purity of intent in their creation.
In March 2019, Vervoordt, a legendary antiquaire, art dealer, architect and true visionary, who integrates the best of the past with a minimal sensibility of the present, announced a move to a new gallery space in Wong Chuk Hang. Five years after opening his first overseas venue in a prime location in Central Hong Kong’s Entertainment Building, Axel Vervoordt Gallery relocated to an expanded two-level space in Wong Chuk Hang, the dynamic artistic hub on the south part of Hong Kong Island.
From February 6 to May 8th, the extraordinary space is dedicated to an exhibition of the uniquely resonant paintings and objects by Korean artist, Chung Chang-Sup, (1927-2011), a leading member of the Dansaekha movement that began in South Korea in the 1970s. The pioneers of Dansaekhwa were born between 1913 and 1936. They rejected any references to Western representation in their work creating primarily monochrome and minimalist paintings. The artists also attempted to break away from the legacy of Japanese imperialism and Western abstraction. Their influence and presence in the international art market has grown thanks to the exhibitions at such galleries as Blum & Poe and Tina Kim, and of course Axel Vervoordt.
Chung Chang-Sup is a prominent figure of the Dansaekhwa monochrome movement, a synthesis of traditional Korean spirit and Western abstraction, which emerged in the early 1970s. His oeuvre reflects his Taoist belief that the artist must balance material and nature in the unified act of making in order to reach harmony.
After the world has suffered from the effects of the pandemic, feeling constricted at best, isolated, alone, and vulnerable economically and physically at worst, an exhibition of the quietly transformative beauty and peace found in the work of Chung Chang-Sup is more meaningful than ever.
Dansaekhwa, which remains a driving force in Korean contemporary art, has gained international recognition over the past few years. Although the Korean monochrome painting style has never been defined with a manifesto, the artists affiliated with it primarily share a restricted palette of neutral hues—namely white, beige, and black—hence the umbrella term dansaekhwa (single color). However, monochrome as such has not been the main focus nor the raison d’être of any of the Dansaekhwa leaders, whose unique ascetic vocabularies led to an overall aesthetics that is formally comparable to that of Western minimalism: process prevails. Artists of the Eastern Dansaekhwa movement and Western minimalism reacted to the intensity and gesture of abstract expressionism and sought to clear art of self-expression or the emotional outpouring that single strokes and vibrant colors evoke.
The term Dansaekhwa, or “monochrome painting,” may elude readers unfamiliar with Korean, but it represents arguably Korea’s most important art movement of the late 20th century. The artists who practiced this approach to painting began to emerge in the early 1970s, when the Republic of Korea was still under a military dictatorship. They included Park Seo-bo, Ha Chong-hyun, Yun Hyong-keun, Kim Whanki, Chung Chang-sup, Chung Sang-hwa, and Lee Ufan, among others. These painters were dissatisfied with the cultural lassitude in South Korea and began painting in a manner that challenged the normative aesthetic to which most Koreans were accustomed. At the outset, the artists worked independently without a group name or identity. It wasn’t until a 2000 exhibition at the Gwangju City Art Museum that the term Dansaekhwa was introduced.
The appearance of the word coincided with the 20th anniversary of the Gwangju uprising, an important moment in modern Korean history when protesters took to the streets to defy the military dictatorship in control at that time. In many respects this uprising was comparable to the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing nearly a decade later. Similarly, in Gwangju, armed soldiers opened fire on students and ordinary citizens in a series of clashes that cost hundreds of lives. This sad but decisive historical event is generally cited as the end of the military government in South Korea and the beginning of a free democracy as the Republic is known today. Throughout the 1970s, prior to the Gwangju uprising, the oppressive regime was a binding force in the underground among the Dansaekhwa artists in Seoul.
The LRFA blog is whispering Airport, Please! in honor of the quiet beauty of this exhibit.