MMCA to display Lee Jung-seop works donated by late Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee
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The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) will be presenting a new portion of late Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee’s donated artworks starting Friday.
This exhibition focuses on the works of Lee Jung-seop (1916-1956), a pioneering figure of Korean modern art. The artist is particularly well-known for the bold and rough brush strokes in his oil illustrations of animals like bulls or chickens.
“MMCA Lee Kun-hee Collection: Lee Jung Seop” digs deeper than just that, however, and emphasizes both the artist’s personal life and his artistic career to get an overall understanding of the significance of his works.
The exhibition features 90 works from the 1940s to ‘50s, and around 80 of them were in Lee’s possession until his donation to the MMCA in April 2021. Two paintings, “Chicken and Chicks” (1950s) and “Children Playing in the Water” (1950s), are being unveiled to the public for the first time.
Lee’s postcard paintings and tinfoil paintings are especially noteworthy as they reflect the love and devotion he had toward his family: his wife Yamamoto Masako and their two sons.
“Lee spent most of his life away from his family, so he would draw and send them pictures he drew on postcards and tinfoil paper,” said Woo Hyun-jung, the curator of the exhibit. “The tinfoil is from his cigarette packs, and he used steel pencils or nails to draw on them. It is assumed that he started drawing these tinfoil paintings after he sent his family to Japan because times were difficult in Korea during the ‘50s [due to the 1950-53 Korean War].”
Lee cherished his family so much that when he sent his two sons his paintings, he would draw two identical versions each signed with his sons’ names so they wouldn’t “fight over” the paintings, Woo explained, as shown in the painting “Two Children and Fish, and Crab” (1950s).
He would also draw paintings depicting family, even scribbling such imagery alongside the love letters he sent to his wife.
Though Lee was a passionate artist, he suffered from many illnesses, such as malnutrition and hepatitis, and died at the young age of 39.
“Lee painted his hopes for a brighter future, and he would consistently say that he would make enough money through his artworks to move to Japan to reunite with his family,” Woo said. “Sadly, no one was at his bedside when he passed away.”
“MMCA Lee Kun-hee Collection: Lee Jung Seop” continues until April 23 next year at the Seoul branch in Jongno District, central Seoul. The MMCA is open every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. On Wednesdays and Saturdays hours are extended to 9 p.m. Admission is free but reservations are required through the museum's website.
BY SHIN MIN-HEE [email@example.com]
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