www.seosangik.com

 
2015. 09 화가의 성전 평론(Eng) - Haily Grenet
서상익
작성일 : 15-11-25 03:58  조회 : 1,396회 
Temple of the Artist
 - Haily Grenet(Franch Curator)


Three months ago I had the chance to encounter Seo Sangik’s works at his studio, and one of his ongoing series, Temple of Artists,  immediately intrigued me.  The work began in 2012, when he started painting on leftover canvases, portraits of his favorite artists in front of their emblematic works.



His first portrait, then, was of the German painter Gerhard Richter, and every time he had time to spare, he painted another of these small portraits. While the realism of the portraits and the mastery of his technique with the colors strike us; we also immediately want to know more about this neither inaccurate nor representative list from the 20th century’s Pantheon of painters. Artists from various backgrounds, schools, and movements are portrayed here. Somehow Sangik curates the ultimate exhibition where Warhol is hung next to Botero, next to Matisse, next to Pollock, next to Duchamp, next to Picasso and even next to Dumas. I got excited and overwhelmed by all the faces gathered in the same room. While he was doing more and more of these portraits, Sangik noticed how, as a Korean who studied in Eastern Asia, he was primarily influenced by Western male painters..
Although Temple of Artists will only be completed when he has 100 portraits of famous people, I found this work to be paradoxically intimate and complex. At the crossroad between Asian art’s influences, comments on the Society of the Spectacle, and an identity quest, this work has above all a specific function for Sangik, and this is what makes it so unique.


First, I want to focus on the paintings he is reproducing. In some ways, they forced him to challenge his own practices; somehow he learned more about painting by copying them. As a westerner I’ve always been impressed by the idea of the copy in Asian painting, and how it shows a deep and profound respect from the pupil towards his master; and how you can be an independent artist with you own style only once you’ve overcome your teacher’s artworks. True canon of paintings were, in the past, created and regarded as an undisputed peak of excellence of a given subject. Their prestige was so high that it was almost impossible to acquire the originals. Well-read audiences eagerly sought for their reproductions, even on a smaller scale. Therefore, by reproducing these paintings, not only does he contribute to expanding their fame, but also understands their techniques, and maybe their secrets.
I guess with these highjacks, he’s also seeking for bounds with each of these painters, either because he is influenced by their techniques, or because he admires their boldness and personal life and the visual revolution they initiated. I remember when I visited him in his studio, I was curious if whether or not he’ll paint himself, and this reminded me of the outstanding fresco at the Vatican painted by Raphael in 1509, The School of Athens. Probably one of the most famous frescoes by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael, it was painted between 1509 and 1511 as a part of Raphael's commission to decorate the rooms in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. Representing Philosophy, the picture has long been seen as Raphael's masterpiece and a perfect embodiment of the classical spirit of the Renaissance. Great minds from the past share the stage with Raphael’s peers, hence putting the modern Rome on the same level as the antique Greece. With humor and irony, through 100 portraits, Sangik is building and creating a legacy, and making modern and contemporary western art his own. However, canvases offer him space and freedom for him to indulge in a unique, personal, and up close interaction with these artists. According to the Wikipedia definition, a portrait is a genre in painting, where the intent is to depict a human subject. The term 'portrait painting' can also describe the actual painted portrait. Portraitists may create their work by commission, for public and private persons, or they may be inspired by admiration or affection for the subject. Portraits are often important state and family records, as well as remembrances. The intimacy, transcending through Temple of artists, reveals as much about the painters as they reveal about Seo Sangik. 


Curiously, while I was observing the artist’s portraits, I realize how I did not know what they looked like.  Today, with the raise of the biennale, the prizes and the retrospectives, the public also requires an embodied artwork; the artist has become a face that people can relate to. Warhol was the first to play with the boundary between public and private, to eventually only become a public figure. When we look at Andy Warhol's biography, it succeeds at telling everything without us actually learning anything specific. The artist has constantly worked without a net, giving its excesses and displaying his personal flamboyant life that never divorced from his public life. Since, private life events of singers or actors are exposed via online and offline newspapers and social network. 
Contemporary artists today are asked to play this role; they promote their work through their personal social network accounts. How many times have we all seen pictures of their mothers or dads in a classic Sunday lunch, next to their latest project or exhibition they participated in, on Instagram or Facebook?
Seo Sangik addresses the exposure that artists need to get to survive by producing portraits of people whose works have become more famous than their own self.

Icon, religion and sacrifice are concepts attached to Temple of Artists, but there are many reasons why the art world is wary of religion. Partly, it’s a question of history. For most of the 20th century, art aligned itself with progressive, rational secularity and radical subjectivity; the ideas that have fed into art come from modern philosophy, liberal or radical politics, sociology and pop culture rather than theology. It’s also a question of finance: the money that funds art doesn’t come from churches or religious orders like it did hundreds of years ago. And then there’s ethics, for some religions are broadly seen by many progressive thinkers to be a cause of intolerance and war. The early 21st century has been characterized by a dangerous return to faith-based political conviction, be it radical Islam or neo-conservative fundamentalist Christianity, neither of which has much sympathy for cutting-edge art or ideas. Also, religious organizations are evidently not exactly known for their forward-thinking attitudes to women or sexuality; the moral teachings of many religious denominations can be at odds with the ways artists want to live their lives. By contrast, the art world is seen to be an open-minded and tolerant community in which to work.
However, to quote philosopher Simon Critchley, art is a faith-based system, an uneasy godlessness with a religious memory. Religious conviction is taken to be a sign of intellectual weakness, and yet the meaning of art itself is often a question of belief. Sol Lewitt was not joking when he said in Sentences on Conceptual Art, in 1967: Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. Art involves a conceptual investment in objects and images just as any religion invests significance in its icons and the ritual use of objects. If an artist tells me his abstract painting is addressing the concept of space, or that his fluorescent blue light sculpture ‘refers’ to Søren Kierkegaard, then – to a degree – I have to start to believe too. Even if I then argue that it might not express what he thinks, it expresses. After all, I can’t prove that he did not invest those works with the belief of these intentions.
Also, to extend the metaphor, we still rely on artists, curators, and critics to act as interpreters of contingent meanings, aesthetic creeds or art world ‘ethics’, just as rabbis, imams and priests do. People go to galleries on Sundays rather than churches. Appeals to the immaterial are buried deep within the everyday language of art too: words such as ‘spiritual’, ‘transcendent’, and ‘sublime’ frequently appears in exhibition reviews, press releases, and gallery guides which does not exactly speak to the rationalist or atheist within us. When Marina Abramović’s retrospective, The Artist Is Present, was held at the MoMA in New York in 2010, thousands of people queued for hours to get the chance to sit at a table in front of her in the museum’s huge lobby. The performer even declared this was religion, reminding us of pilgrimages to Jerusalem (Israel) or to Roma (Italy)…


Beyond the idea of the religious and devotion that these works bring to our mind, each portrait also reveals hidden parts of the artist, Seo Sangik, such as what he aspires at as a human being within society or his role as an artist. They suggest his affiliation and position in the contemporary art scene. The inner world of Sangik presents them all at the same time, and this becomes symbolic and meaningful for him since it defines his identity, almost like a teenager’s room covered with his star’s posters. Moreover, Temple of Artists as presented today, is Sangik’s effort to break the connection with his favorite elder, and an attempt to emancipate himself from his elder peers. This work reveals for Sangik, the moment when he had to develop and build his own identity as an artist as he was seeking for acknowledgment of his peers. Although this is very personal and intimate, I think a lot of artists can relate to this feeling. This work carries this quest for individualization, which are rhythmed by the social encounters that the artist experiments with. This project betrays a desire to take over and fully control space and time, through his creativity, just  as in the concept of Panopticon that was developed by Bentham. The Panopticon is a type of institutional building designed to allow a single watchman to observe all inmates at the same time. Bentham considered it to be a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind. Hence, each portrait also represents a time between Sangik’s past, present and future. 



Nevertheless, “Temple of Artists” illustrates Sangik’s, and his peers’ desire for self-construction: finding a way to fully express a new language, and create something unique and new while being connected to and belonging to a group which shares the same universe and questions.



I think that’s how his work should be understood. Intimacy, boundary and connection are the ideas at the core of his process. Despite a stunning and well-controlled technique, his canvases are actually as abstract as any of Jackson Pollock’s dripping canvases can be.