by Joan Kee. University of Minnesota Press, July 2013. 384 p. ill. ISBN 970816679881 (pbk.), $39.95; ISBN 9780816679874 (cl.), $120.00.

Reviewed January 2014
Lindsey Reno, Acquisitions Librarian/Subject Specialist for Fine Arts, Film, Theater, and Music, University of New Orleans, Earl K. Long Library,

Contemporary Korean Art: Tansaekhwa and the Urgency of Method describes the contemporary art movement of Korean monochrome painting, or Tansaekhwa, which refers to abstract paintings made in neutral colors during the 1960s and 1970s. It is asserted as the first internationally-accepted contemporary Korean art form. The author studies the paintings of a number of individual artists and how they fit into the movement. She provides a close examination of technique throughout the volume. Tansaekhwa artists used almost sculptural techniques to create unusual textures, but also insisted that their work be seen as painting. They sought to provoke viewers into questioning their own understanding of painting. The author looks at the progression that Tansaekhwa artists made from Korean ink painting into abstraction and finally into an internationally recognized art form.

Kee places the movement in historical context, providing much insight into the social and political climate of the time. The international framework of contemporary Korean art is also explored. The West was seen as both a source of influence and of competition. Tansaekhwa found acceptance in Japan, but this relationship caused anxiety among Korean artists because of the Japanese occupation of Korea, which many of them were old enough to remember. Tansaekhwa was eventually accepted in the West, but in response, there was a push to solidify an alliance among Asian artists. As a result, there were a series of “Asian Art Shows” sponsored by the Kukoaka Art Museum starting in 1979.

The volume is clearly written and well-illustrated. Kee does an excellent job of placing Tansaekhwa artists in context, giving the reader a greater understanding of how the artists fit into contemporary Korean art and the international art world. Readers who are not familiar with Korean history will be well-served by the historical context that the author provides. Kee also offers extensive reference notes. This book would be appropriate for libraries in colleges or universities that teach or focus on Asian art history at the undergraduate level.

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