Lee Seung Jio, “Nucleus 87-99” (1987), oil on canvas; 157.48 x 78.74 inches

Lee Seung Jio: Advancing Columns, a new retrospective at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA) presents the life and oeuvre of visionary artist Lee Seung Jio, thirty years after his premature death. The exhibition showcases 90 works made by Lee at the height of his career as well as archives from Origin and AG, radical art groups that he participated in as a founding member.

Emerging with the avant-gardes of the 1960s, when the world seemed to be brimming with aspirations for a new future, Lee Seung Jio (1941–1990) steered Korean geometric abstraction forward. As a witness to the rapid industrialization and urbanization that took place in South Korea in the ’60s and ’70s, Lee was present for events that signaled the trajectory of a budding global power: expressway openings, construction of steel mills and apartments, and spaceship launches. 

The title of the exhibition, Advancing Columns, is an homage to an interview with the artist in which he mentions a railway journey in 1982, focusing on the moment when the landscape outside the train car’s window transforms in the mind’s eye as a result of changes in speed and light conditions. To Lee, that was the sensitization of speed, orienting toward the future. 

Advancing Columns seeks to reveal the relatively understated (when compared to the work’s striking visuality) foundations of time and space in Lee’s art. Through painting, he was able to represent his theories on how change affects an artistic environment by translating them into a concept at once both microscopic and vast. As a metaphor for construction and progress, the exhibition suggests a new contextual reading of the artist: Lee Seung Jio, the pioneer.

Lee Seung Jio: Advancing Columns is on view in Gallery 1 at the Main Hall of MMCA Gwacheon (313 Gwangmyeong-ro, Gwacheon-si, Gyeonggi-do 13829, South Korea) from June 18 through October 4, 2020. The exhibition is curated by Danji Lee.