Art Basel OVR: Portals
Three Places: Ha Chong-hyun, Kazunori Hamana, Zhu Jinshi

June 17 – 19, 2021

For Art Basel OVR: Portals, Blum & Poe is pleased to present a selection of work by three artists whose work is deeply connected to place. Ha Chong-hyun in Korea, Kazunori Hamana in Japan, and Zhu Jinshi in China as well as Germany as a member of the diaspora of Chinese artists, engage directly with the history, politics, and long established artistic traditions of their respective cities and cultures.

Ha Chong-hyun (b. 1935, Sancheong, South Korea) is a foundational member of the movement called Dansaekhwa, also known as Korean monochrome painting. Starting in the early 1970s, Ha and the Dansaekhwa artists shared a desire to reject traditional ink-painting traditions in favor of exploring painting through its most basic material properties. For five decades, Ha has consistently explored the materiality of paint and the nature of canvas as more than a mere support. This approach was shaped by the material deprivations experienced in the decades after the Korean War and an oppressive political climate in which civil liberties were suspended in the name of national security. Ha's use of loosely woven hemp instead of standard canvas originated in the abundance of surplus military supplies available during the postwar period. His ongoing series of paintings titled Conjunction brought him recognition for their radical experimentation with method: by pushing paint from the back of the hemp cloth to the front, and making repetitive, minimal interventions in the paint with a palette knife and other tools, Ha created subtly arresting compositions that range from decisive sweeps to hazy, mist-like fields.

Inspired by traditional Japanese tsubo, functional clay jars dating back to prehistoric times, Kazunori Hamana (b. 1969, Chiba, Japan) makes large and delicate vessels out of natural clay sourced from Shiga prefecture in Japan. Shaped with improvisation and experimentation, his earthenware provides a contemporary look at one of Japan’s oldest traditions, while also preserving its legacy. The artist incorporates a slow and gradual process of hand-coiling, informed by the rhythm of his daily life in the rural fishing village of Chiba and from its surrounding nature. After the pots are fired, he places them outside of his studio not far from the Pacific coast, a process that imbues the vessels with iodized air bearing the traces of saltwater. As these objects continue to dry under the radiant sun, enveloped in bamboo trees, or washed by the sea, nature plays a pivotal role in their transformation. These pottery methods are shaped by Hamana’s lifestyle, his work in remote surroundings, and his interest in organic rice-farming and fishing. Finished with the artist’s mineral glazes, they capture an aesthetic of grace and humility. Each piece’s surface is painted with geometric and organic forms, stripes, symbols and language. Inspired by a range of contemporary references spanning the work of Cy Twombly and Isamu Noguchi, as well as the centuries-old philosophy of wabi-sabi, the result is a body of work rife with rich and fertile intensity.

The dynamic, sculptural paintings of Zhu Jinshi (b. 1954, Beijing, China) avoid easy classification, defining themselves instead through an inherent physicality and visceral power. Zhu's innovative style of painting—the aggressive application of thick and massive amounts of oil paint with the employment of spatulas and shovels as his primary painting tools—retains a strong aesthetic link to traditional Chinese mark making, while simultaneously finding a place within the canon of western action painting. Dramatically ranging in scale and palette, several of his works span more than ten feet tall, while others find their rhythm on a more intimate scale, often as diptychs or triptychs. Zhu's unique painterly style, mastered over many years, results in heavily built-up surfaces resembling lush colorful landscapes. Despite aggressive application, the paintings always find equilibrium. As evidenced by many of the paintings' titles, such as Gravity Balancing Violence, Zhu retains a Buddhist and Taoist sensibility and masterfully finds a place of calm amongst implied chaos.

Zhu came of age alongside the Cultural Revolution in China (1966-76). His early experimentations with abstraction in the 1980s strayed from both government-subsidized propaganda and traditional Chinese art. Zhu joined the Stars Group (xīngxīng huàhuì), a group of Chinese artists formed in 1979 with the mission to challenge aesthetic conventions and to exhibit their work publicly. The Stars, including Ai Weiwei and Ma Desheng, were granted a formal show at the National Gallery in Beijing in 1980. This exhibition was a monumental breakthrough in Chinese cultural expression, defining the individual as creator, and inaugurating the transformation of a new Chinese contemporary art. In 1981, the group disbanded and many of the artists left Beijing to work in Europe and the United States. At this time, Zhu migrated to Germany, where he was immersed in the European avant-garde and began to experiment with conceptual, installation, and performance art, utilizing materials rooted in Chinese tradition such as rice paper and bamboo. Unlike many of his contemporaries, whose artwork was laden with politics and irony, Zhu’s work maintained a balance of traditional form while pushing the boundaries of artistic expression.
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