Jong Tae Retrospective
is organized as part of the Korean Contemporary Artists Series with a focus on
highlighting the practice of a great artist in the field of sculpture. Choi
Jong Tae has been an important figure in the Korean contemporary sculpture,
making great contributions to the modernization and nativization of religious
sculpture in Korea. The current exhibition surveys the life and art of the
artist through a comprehensive investigation of his practice since the 1960s to
the present. Such way of presentation is intended to work on two horizons. One
is to conduct an in-depth research of the artistic achievement made by an individual
artist. Another is to introduce contemporary sculpture of sacred statues, an
authentic branch of art within Korean contemporary sculpture, to the audience
of the exhibition.
Born in 1932 in Daejeon,
South Korea, Choi spent his early years when the country was occupied by Japan
and became independent. Although it was a depressive and chaotic period, it has
been a source of inspiration for Choi. One can find such tendency in a
sculpture titled Longing for Home.
The work embodies the artist's sincere yearning for escaping from the insecure
reality though it might be as temporary as he remembers his hometown where he
spent his childhood. A figure of a woman who is holding her hands together as
she gazes afar, the work symbolically presents the origin of Choi's life and
art. The work marks a turning point for Choi as an artist that had always been
yearning for the pure, innocent years in his life. With Longing for Home, he turned to the pursuit of the origin and root
through his artistic practice.
For Choi, the fundamental
questions on life, religion, and art have been important themes throughout his
life. When he was studying at a university, he had a deep interest in the
Buddhist philosophy as well as the Korean traditional aesthetics that include
folk painting and totems. After graduating from the university in 1958, Choi
started his artistic career in the 1960s and 70s. He was consistent in creating
human figures, employing a way of expression that was controlled in moderation.
In fact, the same period was when abstract art gained currency in the Korean
art scene. Abstract art had such great influence that most artists could not
resist following the trend in their own practice. Within such context, Choi
followed his own way. He did not present a variation of the figurative. Rather,
he created figurative works that crossed the boundary between the figurative
and abstract. His continuous effort in investigating different forms and
figures led him to establish a solid figurative vocabulary in the 1980s.
His artistic agony on
eternity and essence was a question that no mentors in reality could solve.
After attempting to find answers to his questions through different teachings
and encounters, Choi entered the Catholic through baptism after he graduated
from the university. Since then, religion has been an aim of his life and a
different representation of art. Through the 1970s and in the subsequent
decade, Choi developed a practice of sacred statues and religious sculpture.
Through the practice, he substantially realized the nativization of Catholic
religious sculpture. What have enabled Choi to make such achievement are his
deep understanding of other religions, especially the Buddhist doctrine, and
admiration for the figurative beauty of Buddhist art exemplified in figures of
Pensive Bodhisattva or the statue of Buddha in Seokguram Grotto. The reason
Choi could continue developing the movement to nativize religious art lied in
the very point at which he refused to limit himself in the conventional realm
of a specific religion, namely the Catholic Church.
Since the 1990s, through the
2000s, and until now, Choi has been consistent in his figurative language that
appropriates concise, simple lines, solid figures with frontality, and shapes
that are beyond the boundary of the figurative and abstract. In addition to the
exceptional talent in sculpture, Choi is also distinguished in his superb
artistry in diverse artistic mediums and methods such as pastel, drawing,
printmaking, Oriental ink, and watercolor. In his work, Choi undoubtedly
maintains a cautious stance towards the customary logic of division and
exclusion. Choi's art is often compared to a passage towards seeking the truth
in today's world that is filled with dismal phenomena such as the depressive
mood of postmodern era, compulsion and despair, psychological devastation and
extreme fanaticism, the ontological crisis of art, and the conceptual delusion
in such crisis. In the face of the phenomena that require us to come up with an
answer, the current exhibition attempts to provide an opportunity to encounter
the other side of life by introducing the spiritual values and depth deeply
embedded in Choi Jong Tae's world of art.