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Keunmin Lee: Shin Gallery.

The paintings and drawings in Korean-born artist Keunmin Lee's first solo show in the United States are all titled Refining Hallucinations--that is, they depict raw hallucinations, artistically refilled. According to the clinical definition, a hallucination is an apparent perception of an external object when no such object is present." It can be purely visual or experienced as touch. In this exhibition, Lee suggests both these sensations at once: The works are aggressively visual and dramatically haptic. The show's centerpiece was an immense canvas that occupied nearly an entire wall, containing a complex mix of surfaces, at once gestural and atmospheric. It engulfed the viewer in its frightening landscape. At one end, a vast mess of thickly entangled painted gestures--recalling stretched and crushed viscera, bodily fragments, and hideous faces--gives off a striking sense of density amid the thinly painted haze. Any figuration remains inchoate, as people and things are continually reconstituted amid the roiling matrix-cum-void.

In the drawings--there were three in this show--the figures are more fully formed. Many are accompanied by a small painted touch, an ominous blotch positioned below or beside the figure. This might symbolize quicksand--a quixotic passing fantasy, transient yet inevitable. There is a peculiarly meditative air to all the works, as though Lee were watching the figures with a detached consciousness as his hand lifts them out of his unconscious. Some of the figures are more hideous than others: We find bloated figures with animal heads, these grotesque hybrids seemingly in the midst of a painful metamorphosis, as well as an aggressive, intimidating female figure with a happy, smiling child in her Lip Who may represent the psychoanalytic phallic mother. Whatever they mean to Lee, the artist is clearly in touch with the most primitive elements of the psyche. Grotesque derives from the Latin grotto, which derives from the Greek kryptie, meaning "hidden place." Lee resides in the hidden psychic places, where he brews and broods.

There is clearly a diabolical aspect to the artist's works, reminding us that ever since Baudelaire's discussion of "the diabolic and diverting farrago of Brueghel the Droll," a great deal of art has been imbued with what the French writer called "a kind of special, Satanic grace": "For the words 'special grace' substitute, if you wish, the words 'madness' or 'hallucination' but the mystery remains." European avant-garde art is overrun with hallucinatory imagery: Max Ernst and Georg Baselitz in Germany, Henry Moore and Francis Bacon in England, Giorgio de Chirico and Francesco Clemente in Italy, among others. Lee's art is at home among these hallucinating masters. Paul Tillich once wrote, "A man is only as big as the diabolic in himself he can assimilate." Lee uses art to assimilate the diabolic in himself and, in so doing, makes his hallucinations universal.

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Author:Kuspit, Donald
Publication:Artforum International
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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