Exposition : The 100th Anniversary of the Birth of Korean Modern Masters, Lee Jung-Seob 1916-1956

lee jungseob 

The 100th Anniversary of the Birth of Korean Modern Masters

Lee Jung-Seob, 1916-1956

National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA), Deoksugung

Jusqu’au 3 octobre 2016


Lee Jung-Seob (1916-56) was born to a wealthy family in Pyeongwon, South Pyeongan Province in present-day North Korea. After studying in Pyeongyang, Jeongju (in North Pyeongan Province, North Korea), and Tokyo, he began his career as an artist in Japan during the Japanese colonial period. He then returned to Wonsan, South Hamgyeong Province (North Korea), where he was when Korea regained its independence in 1945. Seeking refuge from the destruction of the Korean War (1950-1953), he fled to various places, including Jeju Island and Busan. After the war, he continued his migratory lifestyle, moving around between Tongyeong, Seoul, and Daegu, before he died in 1956 at the age of 41. But no matter his whereabouts or the dire circumstances of his living situation, Lee adamantly maintained his passion for artistic creation.

Although his life coincided with the most turbulent period of Korean contemporary history, marked by colonial rule, war, and division, Lee persisted in living his life and expressing himself as an artist. During the colonial period, when signs of Korean heritage were actively repressed by the Japanese, he boldly made paintings of bulls, a traditional symbol of the Korean people. Even during his years of poverty, transience, and warfare, he produced paintings that laughed at the harshness of reality, expressing the blithe, childlike beauty of happy days spent with his family. After the war, he turned his focus to bull paintings, imbued with a dynamism that reflected his strong will and confidence. Above all, he aspired to be an honest painter who faithfully expressed his emotions. He also wished to be the artist of the Korean people by realizing the traditional aesthetics of his country. But Lee’s life was undoubtedly filled with tragedy; after being separated from his family, he spent his final years in bleak solitude, suffering from mental illness and anorexia, and falling into debt after being defrauded of his money. Like so many other artists, he died alone, leaving behind a collection of lonesome, plaintive works.

As this year marks the 100th anniversary of Lee Jung-Seob’s birth, as well as the 60th anniversary of his death, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art is presenting its first solo exhibition of this extraordinary artist. Covering the full trajectory of Lee’s background and career, the exhibition examines how he doggedly pursued his artistic vision despite the oppressive violence and poverty of the era. By shedding new light on this unsung artistic genius, this exhibition aims to inspire deeper contemplation on the meaning of life and art.



99 Sejong-daero, Jung-gu

Seoul 04519

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