KANG Ik-Joong
(b. 1969, Korea)
KANG Ik-Joong received his MFA from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York and a BFA from Hong-Ik University in Seoul, Korea. The artist is internationally recognized for creating major public art works using multiple 3 x 3 inch canvases to spotlight the plight of people and societies around the world. In December 1999, Ik-Joong Kang worked with 50,000 children from South Korea in creating 100,000 Dreams. This project featured a one kilometer-long, vinyl tunnel-inside which all of the children's works were displayed. Though North Korean children did not participate as planned, this project has since manifested itself on a wider level.

In 2001, Kang completed the project ‘Amazed World’ commissioned by the Republic of Korea in association with UNICEF. Approximately 40,000 works by children from 150 countries and a diverse range of cultures, religions and political beliefs were displayed in a giant maze installation in the lobby of the United Nations building in New York. In 2013, the artist built a 175-meter-long covered bridge, ‘The Bridge of Dreams’, in Suncheon, Korea, containing 120,000 drawings by children from around the world. Last year alone the ‘Bridge of Dreams’ drew more than 5 million visitors. Kang has installed children's drawings at many hospitals and public places around the world including Cincinnati Children’s Hospital (Ohio USA 2006), Zaitun Library (Erbil Iraq 2008) and Asan Medical Center (Seoul, Korea in 2010).

Floating Dreams in London 2016 is the latest in a body of works, situated in the center of the River Thames by the Millennium Bridge in London. This piece spotlights the suffering of displaced people and communities in war-torn locations across the world. It was constructed from 500 miniature drawings and illuminated from within; the three- story-high lantern structure acts as a memorial to the millions displaced and divided during the Korean War (1950-53), a poignant symbol of hope for the reunification of North and South Korea. The installation was commissioned and presented by Totally Thames. Ik-Joong Kang commented, “The river is alive. It talks, breathes and thinks. I know that the Thames does same thing. And it can also connect and embrace us."

His next project is making a one-mile-long circular shape bridge over the Imjin River that separates North and South Korea. Kang says, ‘The children’s dreams fill the inside of the bridge and anyone who walks on this bridge will be sent to the future without even having to buy a ticket’.Kang has exhibited internationally, including a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris, New York in 1996; a two-person show with Nam June Paik at the Whitney Museum of American Art at Champion, Connecticut; and group exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Arts, the British Museum, the Guggenheim Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Ludwig Museum in Germany, and the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Korea. In 1997, he was awarded The Special Merit prize in the 47th Venice Biennale and in 2014 Kang was among the artists featured in the Korea pavilion that received the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Architecture Biennale.

Kang has received many awards and fellowships, including a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Fellowship, a Joan Mitchell Foundation Fellowship. His works in the collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Detroit Institute of Arts in Detroit, the British Museum in UK, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Ludwig Museum in Germany, the Samsung Art Museum, and the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Korea.
Traditional Korean ceramic, Moon shaped jar (“Moon Jar”), is my story of the sky.It’s the sky with floating clouds I remembered from the valley of my hometown. It’s the orange-hued moonrises seen from the plane window as I come into JFK after a long trip. It’s the happiest sunray slipping into my studio while I’m eating 3-dollar lunch combo from Chinatown.

The Moon Jar made in Chosun dynasty (1392-1910) was simple and plain like the sky, but it changes in hue and shade, when looked upon with different emotion and in different time. The shape of the Moon Jars is not as perfectly round as a full moon. Whatever the final product by the master’s hand, it stays with its imperfection and it is better left as it is. Making Moon Jar shares similar approach to making Bibimbap. Traditional Korean dish, Bibimbap is supposed to be mixed rice with bits of meat, fish, vegetables, seasoning - whatever was on hand. Although the numbers of transformations of this dish are infinite, the underlying constant rule is rice. The cook who makes Bibimbap exhibits a flexibility and openness to everything, within a given structure. When the food is done, people share the dish, like a master who makes Moon Jar.

The Moon Jar is formed by creating two parts of clay, the bottom half and the top. Then the two semi spheres are connected by hand, glazed and fired in the kiln, often resulting in a visible joint mark near the middle and slight irregularities in the overall form. It becomes one body and it starts breathing air into the sky. The Moon Jar exemplifies oneness from this connection.

The process of making Moon Jar influenced “100,000 Dreams” my first major outdoor installation with public in 1999. I was trying to connect the divided country by children’s dream. Sixty thousands of drawings from South Korea were displayed inside a one-kilometer-long greenhouse near the DMZ, borderline between North and South Korea. It was lit up at night, as if to invite North Korean children on the other side to come out and play. Though North Korean children did not participate as planned, this project has grown into the “Moon of dream” In 2004 I used 135,000 children’s drawings from 135 countries to create a 45-feet tall sphere of art, which was floated on a lake near Seoul. I called it “Moon of Dream”.

A Korean video artist, Nam Jun Paik once said that the moon was the earliest TV. Everybody was watching the moon, which features rabbits. It was the place of imagination and a playground. Chinese poet Li Bai drowned when, sitting drunk in a boat, he tried to seize the moon’s reflection in the water. The moon was the place of immortality and connecting station to the other world.

Upon my arrival in New York in 1984, I developed 3 x3-inch form, recording momentary thoughts, fantasies, observations, and reactions to the events of everyday life. I thought it was too painful to look down at the ground with mundane things, which are represented by the square, so I decided look into the sky, round shape. I soon followed this project with another project, “Amazed World 2001,” an installation composed of 34,000 children’s drawings from all over the world and displayed at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York. Drawings came from the mountains in Tibet, street corners in Hong Kong and from the war zone in Iraq. One drawing said, “A wall of dream can break down the wall of hatred and ignorance that separated us for a long time. It was the process of connection. I was the weaver to fabricate the fishnet.

I believe the Moon Jar contains unlimited potential for connection to the outside world through the spirit of sharing and openness. My Moon Jar cannot be the Moon Jar from Chosun dynasty. It might share the spirit of Chilsung Mudang (seven shamans) in Cheju Island in Korea, who worshiped seven-stat god, simply performed her ritual dance before only the Seven Star Cider. She was able to do her performance without formal preparation. She knows how to connect with outside force and doesn’t need a formal process or protocol. As is similar to the master who created the Moon Jar, the shamans were not focused on the end product so much but more on its process.

I recently heard one TV show host asked Hank Aaron what he thinks about when he is at the plate. The great homerun hitter replied that his mind is not at the plate during these crucial moments; rather, it is in the stands watching him at the plate. My main concern is trying to get away from what I am doing, like the creator of the Moon Jar. Maybe my Moon Jar is a TV to see myself better and clearer, traveling in the journey of immortality Li bai dreamed of 1,200 years ago.

The sky is blue before the Full moon night and it wears the bright new dress on the morning of New Year’s Day. Right before the storm the sky is mild green. And it seems layered before winter blizzard comes.
Art Net Magazine, July 1996 8,
490 Days of Memory The Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris
Joan Kee
The Korean American artist Ik-Joong Kang is primarily known for mosaic-like installation works made up of 3 x 3-in. squares representing various aspects of his life, ranging from the names of artists who influenced him to notes on his masturbation practices. His most recent work, the tour-de-force 8490 Days of Memory, ventured into history via Kang’s memories of his childhood in the impoverished, war-torn Korea of the early 1960s.

The work represents a colossal effort--a larger-than-life statue of General Douglas MacArthur was constructed from chocolate bars and stands in the middle of the gallery on a low dais made of cubes of resin. The walls of the gallery are covered with Kang’s trademark squares, here made of chocolate and imprinted with U.S. military insignia. The work underscores the powerful way that memory can function through vision, smell and even sound--notably the Tom Jones hits, popular in the U.S. and Korea in the 1960s, that Kang has playing in the gallery. Deployed in a relatively small space, the work poses a kind of sensory overload from the strong smell of chocolate, the maculation of the space through the repeated squares and the giant statue. The physical disorientation suggests the similar fragmented process of the recollection of long periods of time.

Chocolate is a powerful metaphor to Kang. As a rare luxury in post-war South Korea, casually supplied to local children by the victorious G.I.s, chocolate symbolizes the sweetness of American plenty while its silver foil is a literal representation of the glittering promise of wealth and the American dream. Kang drives home this point by incorporating MacArthur, who gained a place in the hearts of Koreans (and a place in their parks, through proliferating statues) by masterminding the Inchon landing, a crucial turning point in the Korean War. The memorialization of the past is also emphasized by small toys and other childhood memorabilia set within each transparent resin block under MacArthur's statue. Each gonggi (jacks) set, each eraser and each pair of doll shoes are fossils embedded forever in Formica, as if to suggest the enduring quality of Kang’s memories.

Despite the importance of memory and the past, Kang’s work is very much a work of the present, avoiding Korean American artistic clinches that attempt to compensate for lack of substance by using inscrutable components of the past. Chocolate is a double entendre metaphor because when exposed to heat, it rapidly melts and this property parallels Kang’s idea of America's waning military power in both Korea and the world.

Likewise, the childhood memorabilia used are not actual objects hoarded from yesterday but objects that can be found or purchased anywhere in Korea today. Such an incorporation of present objects implies that memories are often remembered using the constructs of today. The conflicting ideas of the present and the nostalgia of the past give Kang’s 8940 Days of Memory a pulsating energy that reminds the viewer that the past and present undergo a process of constant interaction.

Ik-Joong Kang, 8940 Days of Memory, Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris, 120 Park Ave. (E. 42nd St.) New York, N.Y. 10017, July 11-Sept. 27, 1996.
Korea Premier AuctionK Auction Auction March 2013 on Mar. 27, 2013
Seoul Auction — Modern & Contemporary Art on Mar. 20, 2013
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Seoul Auction — Seoul Auction - Hong Kong Sale 2010
Christie's New York — Japanese & Korean Art on Mar. 24, 2010
Seoul Auction — 2009 Seoul Auction Hong Kong Sale - Modern & Contemporary Art May. 15, 2009
Sotheby's New York — Contemporary Art Asia on Sep. 17, 2008
Christie's New York — Japanese & Korean Art on Sep. 18, 2007
Christie's New York — Japanese & Korean Art on Mar. 20, 2007
Christie's New York — Japanese & Korean Art on Sep. 21, 2006
Phillips New York, Chelsea — Contemporary Art: Under The Influence II on Sep. 12, 2006

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