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Earth at Oziri (Oziri People)

Lee Jong-gu Korean

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 233

Amid increasing authoritarianism from the 1960s to the 1980s, South Korea underwent rapid industrialization and urbanization, sparking the Minjung grassroots democratization movement. In this context, artists such as Lee Jong-gu embraced realism as an intentionally politicized aesthetic language, challenging the subdued abstraction preferred by earlier figures, including Kim Whanki and Lee Ufan, and questioning the notion that “seeing is believing.” Lee Jong-gu’s hyperrealistic paintings vividly depict the harsh experiences of Korean farmers and laborers. This example is infused with skepticism, evident in the farmers’ expressions, torn posters showing right- and left-wing politicians with their campaign promises, and international political headlines. Lee often incorporated unconventional elements like cabbage and cigarettes, while repurposing grain bags as his canvas, highlighting the mundane. This approach challenged art norms, emphasizing that anyone and anything can be both subject and material for art.

Earth at Oziri (Oziri People), Lee Jong-gu (Korean, born 1954), Acrylic and collage on a grain bag, Korea

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