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Kwanwoo Lee

Graduated from Department of Painting, Kwandong University

Solo Exhibitions
2019 13th Able Fine Art Gallery, New York, USA
2017 12th Able Fine Art Gallery, New York, USA
2014 11th Jeju Museum of Contemporary Art, Jeju Island, Korea
2014 10th Gallery Hanok, Seoul, Korea
2012 9th Able Fine Art Gallery, Seoul, Korea
2011 8th Able Fine Art Gallery, New York, USA
2011 Able Fine Art Gallery, Seoul, Korea
2010 7th Insa Art Center, Seoul, Korea
2010 6th Gallery Soo, Seoul, Korea
2008 5th Insa Art Center, Seoul, Korea
2004 4th Hyundai Arts Center Invitational, Ulsan, Korea
2004 3rd Kwanhoon Gallery, Seoul, Korea
1999 2nd KEPCO Art Center Gallery, Special Invitational, Seoul, Korea
1996 1st Jongro Gallery, Seoul, Korea

Two Person Exhibitions
2019 Cho jae-man & Lee Kwan-woo (Karas Gallery, Itaewon)
2009 Chu In-yeop & Lee Kwan-woo, Jung Gu Chan Gallery, Yongin, Korea
1994 Jeong Seok-do & Lee Kwan-woo, SaeAnYeSaRang, Gangreung, Gangreung

Selected Exhibition & Group Exhibition
2019 Opening Exhibition, Berlin Gallery, Seoul, Korea
2019 “Kwan” Exhibition, Seonggyungwan Gallery, Seoul, Korea
2018 Art Terms B.K Gallery, Seoul, Korea
2017 Drang nach Osten Lilac Gallery, NY, USA
2015 VOICE OF KOREAN ART, Odetoart Gallery, Singapore
2015 Made & Found, Hans Gallery, Seoul, Korea
2014 MMCA Collections “Wall”,
National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gwacheon, Korea
2014 Asiat in Seoul, Chungmu Art Hall, Seoul, Korea
2014 Gongpyeong Gallery Opening Show,
Seoul Art Center Gongpyeong Gallery, Seoul, Korea
2014 Exhibition of Chinese and Korean Contemporary, Level space, Beijing, China
2013 Asiat in Seoul, Art Space Africana, Sungnam, Korea
2013 Korea Japan Latin, Gallery La Mer, Seoul, Korea
2013 Art Space Ben Permanent Exhibition, Seoul, Korea
2013 Women Chosun 29th Anniversary Commemorative Exhibition, Seoul, Korea
2013 Primavera, Amway Art Museum, Seoul, Korea
2013 Korea Japan Latin, Gallery La Mer, Seoul, Korea
2012 Bangladesh Biennale, Bangladesh
2012 Landscape in My Mind, LIG Art Space, Seoul, Korea
2012 Artists from Gyeonggi-do Province, Namsong Art Museum, Gapyeong, Korea
2012 The Essentials, Able Fine Art Gallery, New York, USA
2012 Journey of Time, Able Fine Art Gallery, New York, USA
2012 Asiat in Seoul, Seoul Art Center Gongpyeong Gallery, Seoul, Korea
2012 Black Stone, Icheon, Korea
2012 Lee Kwan-woo, Beacon Gallery, Seoul, Korea
2012 Korea Japan Latin, Gallery La Mer, Seoul, Korea
2011 Gallery Yoon Opening Show, Gallery Yoon, Seoul, Korea
2011 Clio Box, Insa Arts Center, Seoul, Korea
2011 Art Two Design, Insa Arts Center, Seoul, Korea
2010 Korean Art in celebration of G20 Seoul Summit,
National Assembly Library, Seoul, Korea
2010 Happy Receptacles, Gallery Gong, Seoul, Korea
2010 By Your Side, Horim Museum, Seoul, Korea
2010 Art Wit, Seongnam Arts Center, Seongnam, Korea
2010 3.15 Art Center, Changwon, Korea
2010 Transformed Land, Mongloian National Modern Art Gallery, Mongol
2010 Korea Japan Latin, Gallery La Mer, Seoul, Korea
2010 Him of Gyeonggi-do, Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art, Ansan, Korea
2010 Neo-Renaissance, Seoul Art Center Gongpyeong Gallery, Seoul, Korea
2010 Good Morning, Seoul Art Center Gongpyeong Gallery, Seoul, Korea
2009 Sculpture Symposium, Central Park, Gwacheon, Korea
2009 Three Contemporary Artists, Gagaa Gallery, Incheon, Korea
2009 Metaphor as Material, Seoul Art Center Gongpyeong Gallery, Seoul, Korea
2009 Seoul Auction Cutting Edge, Seoul Auction Space, Seoul, Korea
2009 Korea Japan Latin, Dongduk Art Gallery, Seoul, Korea
2009 New Beginning, Gallery Yeh, Seoul, Korea
2009 Humor and Satire, Albaro Siza Hall, Anyang Arts Park, Anyang, Korea
2009 Good Morning Seoul, Seoul Art Center Gongpyeong Gallery, Seoul, Korea
2009 New Year Show, Gallery Soo, Seoul, Korea
2009 Beautiful Journey of Teachers and Students, Hanaro Gallery, Seoul, Korea
2008 Opening Exhibition, Gagaa Gallery, Incheon, Korea
2008 Spring in Namsong, Namsong Art Museum, Gapyeong, Korea
2008 International Artists Invitational, Gangneung Museum of Art, Gangneung, Korea

Art Fair

2023  Context Miami, Miami, USA
2023  Aaf Singapore. Singapore
2023  Aaf Battersea Park. London UK
2023  Art on Paper. USA
2023  Aaf New York, USA
2023  Hampton Fine Art New York, USA
2023  AAF Sydney. Austria
2023  AAF hong kong_HONG kONG
2023  AAF Brussels. Belgium
2022  Red dot Miami. Miami  USA
2022  Aaf Singapore. Singapore
2022  Aaf Battersea Park. London UK
2022  Art on Paper. USA
2021  Context Miami, Miami, USA
2019 Context Miami, Miami, USA
2019 Affordable Art Fair Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands
2019 Affordable Art Fair Battersea Park, London, UK
2019 Art Expo Malaysia, Malaysia
2019 Affordable Art Fair Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
2019 Affordable Art Fair Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
2019 Affordable Art Fair Hampstead, Hampstead, UK
2018 Context Miami, Miami, USA
2018 Affordable Art Fair Singapore, F1 Pit Building, Singapore
2018 Affordable Art Fair Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China
2017 Affordable Art Fair Battersea park, London, UK
2017 Architectural Design Show, New York, USA
2017 Affordable Art Fair New York, New York, USA
2017 Affordable Art Fair Hong Kong, Convention and Exhibition Center, Hong Kong
2017 Affordable Art Fair Singapore, F1 Pit Building, Singapore
2017 Architectural Digest Design Show, PIERS 92 & 94, New York, USA
2017 Art Up, Parc Expo Rouen, Avenue des Canadiens, France
2017 LA Art Show, Los Angeles Convention Center, Los Angeles, USA
2016 ST.ART Fair, Strasbourg, France
2016 Affordable Art Fair Singapore, F1 Pit Building, Singapore
2016 Art Fair Cologne, Cologne, Germany
2016 Affordable Art Fair Battersea Park, London, UK
2016 Art Hamptons Market, NY, USA
2016 Art Hamptons, NY, USA
2016 Affordable Art Fair Milano, Milano, Italy
2016 LA ART SHOW 2016, Los Angeles Convention Center, Los Angeles, USA
2015 Affordable Art Fair Singapore, F1 Pit Building, Singapore
2015 Korea International Art Fair (KIAF), COEX, Seoul, Korea
2015 Art Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Dubai
2015 Affordable Art Fair New York, Metropolitan Pavilion, New York, USA
2015 London Art Fair, Business Design Centre, London, UK
2014 Contemporary Istanbul Art Fair, Istanbul, Turkey
2014 Affordable Art Fair Battersea AC2014, Battersea Park, London
2014 Korea International Art Fair (KIAF), COEX, Seoul, Korea
2014 Affordable Art Fair Britain, London, UK
2014 Affordable Art Fair Singapore, Singapore
2014 Affordable Art Fair Hong Kong, Convention and Exhibition Centre, Hong Kong
2014 Korea Galleries Art Fair, COEX, Seoul, Korea
2013 Korea International Art Fair (KIAF), COEX, Seoul, Korea
2013 Affordable Art Fair Hong Kong, Convention and Exhibition Center, Hong Kong
2013 Affordable Art Fair New York, New York, USA
2013 Affordable Art Fair Singapore, Singapore
2013 Affordable Art Fair, London, UK
2013 Art Dot Miami, Miami, USA
2013 Istanbul Art Fair, Istanbul, Turkey
2012 Daegu Art Fair, EXCO, Daegu, Korea
2012 Korea International Art Fair (KIAF), COEX, Seoul, Korea
2012 Artexpo New York, New York, USA
2012 Art Show Busan, BEXCO, Busan, Korea
2011 Korea International Art Fair (KIAF), COEX, Seoul, Korea
2011 Affordable Art Fair Singapore, Singapore
2011 Affordable Art Fair New York, New York, USA
2011 Art Cologne 21, Cologne, Germany
2011 Art Korea Miami, Miami, USA
2011 Doors Art Fair, Hotel Imperial, Seoul, Korea
2010 Cheongdam Art Fair, Gallery Godong, Seoul, Korea
2010 Korea International Art Fair (KIAF), COEX, Seoul, Korea
2010 Daegu Art Fair, EXCO, Daegu, Korea
2010 Art Daegu, EXCO, Daegu, Korea
2009 Cheongdam Art Fair, Gallery Godong, Seoul, Korea
2009 Korea International Art Fair (KIAF), COEX, Seoul, Korea
2008 Salon des Artistes INDEPENDANTS, Grand Palais, Paris, France
2008 Namsong International Art Fair, Seongnam Arts Center, Seongnam, Korea
2007 Gangwon Art Fair, Chiak Arts Center, Wonju, Korea
2006 Yongin International Art Expo, Yongin Cultural Arts Center, Yongin, Korea
2005 Beijing Art Fair, Galerie Bhak, Beijing, China
2004 Korea Contemporary Art Festival (KCAF), Seoul Arts Center, Seoul, Korea

2014 Jeju Contemporary Museum Art, Jeju Island, Korea
2010 Daegu District Court, Daegu, Korea
2009 Gwacheon Central Park, Gwacheon, Korea
2008 Art Bank of Seoul National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul, Korea
2008 Gwacheon National Museum of Museum of Contemporary Art, Gwacheon, Korea
2008 Namsong Art Museum, Gapyeong, Korea
2004 Ulsan Museum of Modern Art, Ulsan, Korea

* Review

Art as Meditation, Infinity as Art

Robert C. Morgan
Lee kwanwoo’s Condensed pixilations based on the traditional use of Korean stamps and seal-signs are highly original works of art. In recent years, Lee has collected these signs from many sources. In addition he has hand-carved and cast reproductions of these seals in resin using traditional Korean methods. The final step is to assemble them into a dense undulating grid-like pattern on the surface of his canvas.  By re-contextualizing the meaning of these stamps either as a grid of impressions on Korean paper or as a sculptural bas-relief on canvas, they may have a profound spiritual effect on viewers who are familiar with the traditional use of stamps in East Asia. Some of the signs go back over two millennia when they were used as identity markers in writing and correspondence. Over the centuries, they become sophisticated signifiers of attribution, often revealing the owner’s spiritual and material status within the community. From a conceptual point of view, Lee’s carefully crafted assemblages transport meaning from the historical past into the present. As we encounter these Condensed prints and pixilated sculptural reliefs, the viewer may experience a strong feeling of unity within Korean cultural history. In addition to the use of both original and cast and carved seals, the artist will use ink to accentuate various aspects of his abstract design cosmology or occasionally producing a composition of Buddha’s head.

Lee kwan woo is less concerned with the notion of appearance, or even identity in his work. He is more involved with the meditative process and the feeling of the surface as a condensation.  We may speak of condensation as a kind of vapor clinging to the interior an automobile windshield. We see it for a relatively short period of time below the air currents remove it over time.  Condensation is a momentary action in the physical world, a natural effect.  The stamps once symbolized a position or the status of a professional person, a physician, a legal expert, a business person, or an artist – all regarded as temporary marks of identity in the full spectrum of the universe. Many of Lee’s stamps have a rugged, rustic look about them that somehow retains their integrity. However, when we look at them, we tend not to see them individually. Nor do we necessarily think of them in this manner. Rather we see them as a whole, as a vast ocean of consciousness, representing many lives and different moments in the history of the Korean community. They may project a heightened sensory awareness as we search for a meaning that lies beyond their appearance. From an Eastern point of view, we may reflect on these signs as representing the infinite number of human beings that have lived and worked on the earth, each contributing something of value to their communities, and each requiring a stamp of identity in the realm of daily commerce.
For Lee kwan woo the application of art to Buddhism suggests a form of meditation, a kind of ritual given to his art. When we look at the oceanic space of various stamps and seals, there is an implication of infinity that suggests emptiness beyond specific visibility. The effect is nothing in particular. It is a general notion of the cosmos that gives attention to what Buddhists understand as emptiness of mind, a concept essential to Buddhist teachings. Because Buddha is historically more indigenous to Korea than Confucius, and in some ways more related to the lives of ordinary people, we might think of Mr. Lee’s assemblages as being less concerned with the imposition of moral authority than with a great compassion and respect for one another.

In that all of his works are titled “Condensed,” we have to rely or the year or the measurement to communicate specific works. For instance, there is one I am taken with from 2011. It measures 36 X 29 inches. The ink color on the seal is orange reddish and it is positioned in a vertical format with more definition towards the top where the larger seal have been placed. This suggests a form of obverse perspective used in some of the great landscapes of the Northern Song period in China, but in this case, some would call it abstract. In fact, the work is not abstract. The Condensed works are really not abstract. They are representational. They are actual objects that have been used and altered and have been given a radical redefinition in time and history as art. They carry memories from the past, what the artist refers to as “allegories of memory.” This is exactly what they are.

In returning to the concept of “open-mindedness” in the work of Lee kwan woo, some readers may be unclear.  The term I use is an English one, but there are other Chinese words that express what I mean more correctly. The words are wu-nien (no mind) and wu-hsih (no thought). Both words are also concepts. They are words close to Buddhist meditation and are also close to art in a way that extends beyond hemispheres or nationalities. They are less a principle, in the Confucian sense, or an ideology, in the Neo-Confucian sense, and more about meditative practice. They are words that describe the direction that Buddha sought to achieve: to instill emptiness in the human mind. Emptiness is the goal of meditation. It is close to nature, and therefore, requires no principle or ideology. It is a matter of emptying the mind of all unnecessary thoughts that stand in the way of self-enlightenment.

The desire to relinquish desire and to find emptiness of mind is what I believe Lee kwan woo’s art tries to achieve.  He is first and foremost an artist before he is anything else. For example, we see objects in the material world as having a particular function. This is how we understand them. Objects are identified according to their use. We know them in terms of what they do and how they perform in the everyday world. A chair is where we sit. A bed is where we lie down. A vase holds flowers. A faucet turns water on and off.  Lee, kwan woo’s work is not about these kinds of function. The meaning in his work is neither practical nor functional. His Condensed works do nothing in particular. Rather they belong within the realm of the spiritual – not spiritual in terms of religion, but spiritual in terms of emptiness. They serve to bring us closer to nature, that is, the nature within ourselves that connects us to the universe. Lee kwan woo’s work is paradoxically both deeply within, yet outside the everyday world, which is essentially, the way of meditation.

Seven years ago I as invited to stay at a Son(Zen) Buddhist temple. It was winter and snowing, and I slept on a cushion on the floor of a small room. In the morning I woke out to the sound of a stick broom sweeping the stone steps outside my door. One of the neophyte monks had been asked to clean the snow from the area outside my door so that I could easily walk down the steps and onto the stone path to the hall where the other monks had congregated earlier for meditation. Later it occurred to me that the monk’s sweeping action was practical, but practical in a very different way than what is understood by Westerners. The sweeping was done as a kind of meditative action so that it took on another meaning, a more distilled meaning. In Son Buddhism – which was popular in Korea during the Goryeo Dynasty that ended in 1392 – neophyte monks would perform the same sweeping action whether or not there had collected any snow or leaves on the steps or the path.  The sweeping might occur at any time if the steps or path were relatively clean. This was called “meaningless work” – a meditative action –that could lead the mind of the young monk toward emptiness. In Son Buddhism, particularly the Rinzai sect, the function of sweeping was to empty the mind. In doing so, the practitioner is brought close to nature.

I think Lee kwan woo’s art is original for conceptual reasons, primarily because of its intent and its focus on meditation in the sense of sweeping the clear steps. The stamps and seals he uses are embedded with real memories, and in real time and space. As an artist, he gives them another reading, one close to Buddhism, but also capable of being shared worldwide. In this sense, the artist’s work becomes universal only when it is truly personal, only when there is a vision that the force of the artist’s material involvement chooses to transmit to others. The paradox is that by going deeply within oneself, one becomes universal. I am not certain this is the intent of Lee kwan woo, but the work is clearly in search of a new path toward understanding. Having seen some of the actual works of Lee kwan woo both in New York and Seoul on a recent visit to the Able Fine Art Gallery this past summer it is clear that Lee is seeking a new way to make art that signifies ideas he believes are important and very much within our current historical moment.

Robert C. Morgan, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus in Art History at the Rochester Institute of Technology, who currently lives in New York City.
He is a painter, curator, international critic, and lecturer, who writes frequently on the work of Korean artists. In 2011, he was inducted into the prestigious European Academy of Sciences and Arts in Salzburg.

Finite Infinities in the Work of Kwanwoo Lee

By Mary Gregory, a New York Art Critic and Writer
By bringing the many into one, yet never losing the shining clarity of each individual, artist Kwanwoo Lee makes a statement that goes beyond art and speaks directly to his view of life. Lee is a talented Korean artist who combines ancient tools and contemporary vision to create complex works of art that carry many layers of meaning. His Korean heritage is stamped on each work, yet the most fundamental message of his art is universal.

Kwanwoo Lee creates paintings that are not made of paint. His two-dimensional surfaces are actually not flat at all. And yet, it is difficult to describe them as sculpture. His elemental forms are at once unique and representative of mass production. A harmonious form of contradiction seems to be the artist's chosen environment. 

Lee's works are composed of stamps. Each stamp carries a word or a pictograph or just a design of the artist's conception. The stamps are placed, in an uneven, undulating layer, across a flat surface. Some jut out. Some receded. They create fields and waves when seen at a distance. As a forest is composed of trees, and an ocean of infinite drops of water, so Lee's constructions achieve completion by the accumulation of many.

Stamps have been used in Asian societies for centuries. Like our signatures, they represent the individual whose name is contained in them. And, as signatures, they carried weight. Legal, social and business relationships, and events were announced, formalized and sealed by stamps. They declared "this is me, and this is my intent." In themselves, they can be beautiful, artful objects.  Asian stamps have acquired a poignancy in recent decades as they have become anachronistic and abandoned.

Lee describes how moved he was when, many years ago, he "discovered seals among the trash and debris left behind in some empty or deserted homes." Realizing that each of those seals bore vestiges of the lives they represented and what a loss of history and rich heritage would vanished when the trash was collected and removed, he reclaimed them and made them his new medium.

After having worked on these pieces for more than a quarter century, Lee has left behind those original wooden stamps and now creates individual stamps of his own design, fashioned from 21st century materials, like resin. Each stamp is a new creation. Some still contain names. Some name states of being, like happiness - or wishes, like good luck - or elements, like water. Some depict faces, or animals, or small representations of pottery, or bowls that might contain nourishment. Many of Lee's constructions contain hundreds of these hand-made stamps. Some contain more than thousands. It seems to be the artist's aim that eventually, one might encounter the whole universe through his stamps.

And yet, the stamp is literally only part of the picture. Again, as the forest and the trees, there is something larger happening in Lee's work. A thousand stamps may compose into one benevolent Buddha head. They may form a gleaming, golden abstraction. They may, as in nature, not form any composition at all, or at least none that we can see from our perspective, just presenting a peaceful chaos. 

Infinity is made of moments. Each moment contains a countless choices. Lee presents a vast series of artistic choices to depict a series of moments, trying to convey a state to the viewer. The viewer will make his or her own decisions about the work—where to look, how to interpret, how to respond.

States exist in time, and time is an important element in Lee's work. The works take time to create, as well as time to see. The amount of hours spent doing each stamp is part of the work and, at the same time, part of the reward of doing the work. It becomes a meditative act. Repetitious, yet meaningful. Practiced, yet challenging. Each stamp, like each moment, is a record of a thought or an emotion.

But states also transcend time. Both the personal and the universal, the ephemeral and the eternal are the subject of Lee's work. All the pieces share the same vision, the same aim, and consequently, the artist has chosen that they all share the same title, Condensation. Lee calls them Condensation, and, in effect, he is condensing. He's condensing thoughts into images, hopes into words. He's condensing families into names that represent them. He's condensing many images into one. He is condensing his experiences and views of life into his artwork.

And at the same time, he's distilling. Bringing things down to their essences. Many become one. Shared characteristics overshadow Individualities. Humanity is greater than nationalities or families. Nature is greater than humanity. The all will always be greater than the parts. 

Condensation also defines the act of water changing from one state to another. As water morphs from vapor to liquid it becomes more dense. It becomes fundamentally different. In his works, Lee seeks to transform the individual to a stronger state, an irreplaceable part of the whole. 

Each stamp represents the possibility of losing oneself in the sea of living, or even in the void.  The 21st century seems to have made our fiercely individualistic way of life in the west even more so. We live in a world of selfies. Lee's reminder that we are part of something bigger, that we are one with everything, is a valuable statement. In his Condensation pieces the one and the whole are interdependent and complete each other. At the same time, the works speak to the idea of population, and bring timely recognition of the fact that cooperation has never been more necessary in our overpopulated world.

The American poet, Emily Dickinson, wrote "A Soul Admitted to Itself: Finite Infinity" in an attempt to describe the indescribable depth of the self. Kwanwoo Lee uses stamps and paint to try to bring across the same ideas. He uses an iconography in his stamps that is individualistic, idiosyncratic, and personal to the point of mystery, which adds to their power. In his work, as in all symbolic expression, sometimes the symbol supplants the meaning, sometimes the meaning is lost. Sometimes the symbol becomes the meaning. In Kwanwoo Lee's Condensation, all of these happen, and we are left with objects created from other objects that speak in an unknown language about separation and completion, time and timelessness, the single self and all of humanity.

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