Abu Dhabi Art Goes Global with Curated South Korean Focus

[Left] Dyala Nusseibeh, Director, Abu Dhabi Art [Right] Sung woo Kim, Curator, gallery sector “Korean Contemporary Art,” Abu Dhabi Art 2020. Images courtesy of The Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi.
Seulgi Lee, U: The rat pretends to be dead. = Quite, 2020, Korean silk, collaboration with Korean Nubi quilter of Tong-Yeong, 195 x 155 x 1 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Gallery Hyundai.
Lee Woosung, Rock-Paper-Scissors, 2013, acrylic gouache on canvas, 130.0 x 130.3 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Hakgoojae Gallery.
Baek Kyungho, Two Haeds, 2016, oil, painted canvas on canvas, 130.3 x 162.2 cm, dia 55 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and SPACE Willing N Dealing.
Heemin Chung, Lilies And A Broken Heart Of Her, 2020, acrylic, oil and gel medium on canvas, 100 x 100 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and P21.
Heeseung Chung, Untitled, 2013, archival pigment print
84 x 63 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Gallery Baton.
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CoBo Social Market News Reports

The challenges of going virtual aside, Abu Dhabi Art persists in its global focus on art, showcasing curated country specific platforms. Fair director Dyala Nusseibeh and South Korean curator Sung woo Kim explain why and how they did so.

 

TEXT: Reena Devi
IMAGES: Courtesy of Abu Dhabi Art

Abu Dhabi Art, organised by Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture and Tourism since 2015, is launching a virtual edition in place of its physical iteration from 19 to 26 November. A year ago, the art fair began to expand its curated gallery sectors to include Asian and Indian contemporary art. This year, the fair is building on their global outlook, launching sectors highlighting artworks from India, South Korea and Africa in its digital showcase, while working closely with relevant curators and galleries all around the world.

The platform looking at contemporary art from South Korea, curated by Sung woo Kim, independent curator and writer, might seem arbitrary at first glance for a fair in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), but for Dyala Nusseibeh, Director of Abu Dhabi Art, this focus made complete sense.

 

[Left] Dyala Nusseibeh, Director, Abu Dhabi Art [Right] Sung woo Kim, Curator, gallery sector “Korean Contemporary Art,” Abu Dhabi Art 2020. Images courtesy of The Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi.

 

Responding to CoBo Social via email, Nusseibeh said, “Over the last few years, an increasing number of galleries from South Korea have participated in Abu Dhabi Art. I remember one journalist who visited the fair last year even pointing this out to me in an interview and inquisitively asking why—the question stayed with me after!”

“Works by Korean contemporary artists seemed to resonate with our collectors which in turn attracted Korean galleries over the years and this drew my attention. Many contemporary Korean artists respond in their work to living in a country that has transformed radically in a relatively short period of time—something that our curator Sung woo picks up on in his sector ‘Material-Real,’” she added.

Nusseibeh went on to explain that there is an interesting parallel between South Korea and UAE—both countries have experienced “meteoric economic transformation in a matter of decades and with that, intense social change” as well. Moreover, this year celebrates 40 years of diplomatic relations between South Korea and the UAE, making it a timely moment to “pick up on the existing affinity [the fair’s] collectors have for contemporary Korean art, to explore that attraction further and see where it takes us.”

Kim, who was previously appointed as an artistic director in the curatorial collective formed for the Gwangju Biennale in 2018, and curatorial advisor for the Busan Biennale 2020, is known for focusing on curatorial methodologies that produce and pose questions relating to time and space and how to capture individuals’ subjectivities in the form of an exhibition.

 

Seulgi Lee, U: The rat pretends to be dead. = Quite, 2020, Korean silk, collaboration with Korean Nubi quilter of Tong-Yeong, 195 x 155 x 1 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Gallery Hyundai.
Lee Woosung, Rock-Paper-Scissors, 2013, acrylic gouache on canvas, 130.0 x 130.3 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Hakgoojae Gallery.

 

For the South Korea sector of Abu Dhabi Art featuring works by artists such as Woosung Lee, Heemin Chung and Lee Bae, Kim knew what he wanted to explore from the start—South Korean contemporary art within its own context, providing a distinctive lens through which it could be viewed.

“Like other nations and cultures, contemporary art in Korea is complex, in flux and dynamic. It is not an easy thing to simplify or reduce. As a result, I curated the sector under the title ‘Material-Real’ which is focused on the artists’ expanded viewpoints with experimental practices. In this sector, the practices of artists are translated not just into experiments in art itself, but also as reactions against the lived realities of artists in Korea today,” said Kim.

While focusing on this cultural context of South Korean art, the curator sought to “acknowledge and engage with the culture of the UAE,” taking into considerations the characteristics of the art market as well as the fair, Abu Dhabi Art’s “singular direction.”

 

Baek Kyungho, Two Haeds, 2016, oil, painted canvas on canvas, 130.3 x 162.2 cm, dia 55 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and SPACE Willing N Dealing.

 

One of the aspects Kim included in his curatorial exploration and decisions was, inevitably, the online format of this year’s fair and hence, the fact that the art would be shown in an “exhibition-virtual space.”

“The online format of the fair led to a critical limitation on the selection of genres and forms of artworks for inclusion. As we are all too aware, such a switching of format is due to COVID-19 which has forced us, and in some cases, enabled us, to challenge institutional procedures and forms in place,” he said.

“As a curator, I of course have to accept this urgent phenomenon today, and re-direct the approach for selection. It is about how to see this online format; how to create an online platform that can become complementary to a physical exhibition, or even replace it. I have tried to develop the concept of this sector, addressing such a concern—the switch to online,” he added.

 

Heemin Chung, Lilies And A Broken Heart Of Her, 2020, acrylic, oil and gel medium on canvas, 100 x 100 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and P21.
Heeseung Chung, Untitled, 2013, archival pigment print
84 x 63 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Gallery Baton.

 

According to Nusseibeh, most of the sectors including the one focusing on South Korean contemporary art was planned for a physical edition, with research beginning last January. However, the stop-and-start element to this year due to the global pandemic disrupted the normal rhythm of work and they only really got started in August once they “knew what format the fair would take and how that might challenge or inform the programmes.”

Even so, the art fair organisers set out to put together a comprehensive showcase with its globally expansive, country specific sectors. In addition to “Material Real,” there will be “The Day After,” a sector dedicated to contemporary art from across the African continent curated by Simon Njami; the “India Today” section, looking at the Indian subcontinent, curated by gallerist Ashwin Thadani; and “A Picture Held Us Captive,” a section on contemporary artists represented by UAE galleries, curated by Nada Raza. There will also be an attempt to incorporate performance art in the fair with Rose Lejeune, Associate Curator for the Delfina Foundation’s Collecting as Practice programme in London, curating this year’s Performing Arts programme, “In The Round”, via digital format.

“I work closely with the guest curators across the year and this is one of the things I most enjoy: the learning process I undertake as they develop their thoughts around what they want to achieve for the fair. This year everyone has had to adapt very quickly to the challenges of online!” said Nusseibeh. “Nonetheless, I most want visitors to have that same experience of learning something new, discovering work differently, perhaps even thinking about the world around them differently, once they encounter the proposals put forward by each curator online this November. I hope they do.”

Kim too shared similar hopes. “Art is definitely a sort of language that goes beyond boundaries such as culture, history, religion etc. Through this metaphorical language of art, we can examine the rapidly changing conditions of today in different time zones, regions, and cultures.”

He added, “And at this point, I hope the viewers can see not only the aesthetic qualities of artworks, but also the context inherent in connection with contemporary conditions of Korea. And furthermore, we can perceive that this contemporary condition of Korea is not just limited to a geographical territory, but rather, almost simultaneously, on Earth from a global perspective.”

 

Abu Dhabi Art
19–26 November 2020

 

 

 
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