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Women’s Art and the Abstract Works of Lee Ungno

5 June 2017

Discover the variety of styles used by women in the applied arts and the revival of Korean art in the 20th century; from the multi-media pieces at Les Arts Décoratifs to Lee Ungno’s paintings at Cernuschi Museum…these exhibitions celebrate strength and creativity in the face of adversity. 

Women’s Work? At Les Arts Décoratifs

Les Arts Décoratifs (until 17th September 2017)

Information & Tickets 

More than 200 pieces of artwork and pioneering techniques are on display at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. “Women’s Work?” takes a sharp look at the evolving role of women in the applied arts that encompasses textiles, ceramics, clothes and fashion.


The show champions textiles as one of the primary mediums for modern and contemporary art. On display are works by some of the influential artists of the early 20th century, including Sonia Delaunay’s hand-painted Tissu Simultané No.189. The fabric from 1927, printed in rich spicy reds, browns and greens, evokes a sense of flow and rhythm.

By the time of Delaunay’s death in 1967, artists were reinventing the medium as a serious contemporary art form. In Assembly by Vera Székely, four-rolls of paper are suspended from a huge wooden frame with rope. When looking at the frame, you can see that she has focused on the assembly to create an inert force in this powerful piece.

Hannover Herrenhausen Niki De Saint Phalle Grotte 20050502
Sculptures by Niki De Saint Phalle Grotte


Beside such impressive textile pieces, there are plenty of ceramic works in the next room: from a vibrantly psychedelic lamp by the great Feminist artist, Niki de Saint Phalle to Toronto-born Kristin McKirdy’s small tribes of abstract shapes and fallen vases. While Saint Phalle’s was made in 1960 and McKirdy’s in 2016, McKirdy’s feels the more traditional.

For all its abstract forms, McKirdy’s work is reminiscent of the 1950s ceramic style, seen in her voluptuous full-bellied vases and pots. Yet both artists relentlessly probe the qualities of clay as a material and all its advantages.


Within the interconnecting areas, you will see fashion pieces from the 1920s until the present day. As part of a major collaboration, Elsa Schiaparelli’s sweater with bow tie was photographed by Horst P. Horst in 1928. This partnership between a female and male artist at the beginning of the 20th century shows that applied art was no longer seen as ‘women’s work’. It seems that creative women and men of the 1930s were already working together on artistic projects.

While the vinyl pink punk outfit created by Rei Kawakubo in 2016, shows there are no stereotypes, no laws, no masters and no categories. Her sense of freedom is absolute and infinite – and makes a fitting end to this small but fascinating exhibition.

Lee Ungno, the Man of Crowds at Cernuschi Museum

Cernuschi Museum (9th June until 19th November 2017)

Information & Tickets 

The Cernuschi Museum’s exhibition of Lee Ungno displays some of his rarely seen ink paintings from the gallery’s collection. It attempts to explore the diversity of his abstract compositions and diverse techniques, which paved the way for the revival of contemporary Korean art.

The Abstract Letter

It makes perfect sense that his Abstract Letter Series from the 1970s are on display at the beginning of the show. Here you see Lee Ungno’s paintings beginning to use an abstract style combined with his Korean Calligraphy and Oriental techniques. His celebrated ‘Abstract Letter’, bristling with sharp lines that cut a clean composition against the blank canvas, is shown alongside another equally dominating ink painting of jumbled letters, contrasted by sheets of smudgy pink colour. Both are strong examples of him combining the angular structure of a written letter with the smooth painterly strokes of calligraphy.

Musée Cernuschi Great Hall
Musée Cernuschi Great Hall

A Painter of Crowds

The remainder of Lee Ungno’s impressively comprehensive exhibition provides a fascinating presentation of his next series: Crowds. The abstract ink paintings completely subvert the angular and architectural structure of his Abstract Letters. Here he prints chaotic patterns of people onto paper, and subsequently into our mind.

‘People’ (1987) churns up the page, inky forms scattered across the canvas like pistons, so that you glance through the composition in one sweep before noticing that they are human forms. ‘People’ (1984) channels another crowd relentlessly across the page. This and the  calligraphic compositions of people disjointed and overlapping are Lee Ungno’s most famous works in which his experiments were pounded into shape by avant-garde influences. They define him as one of the most important Asian painters of the twentieth century.

‘Mosaics by Sonia Delaunay' © Ken and Nyetta | CC License

‘Hannover - Herrenhausen - Niki de Saint Phalle’ Ricki| CC License


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