Three Paintings by Hyong-Keun Yun, 1993 / Donald Judd, untitled works in plywood, 1978

Special Exhibition of Works from the Collection

On view October 8, 2021, through summer 2022 in Chinati’s large special exhibition gallery.

Three Paintings by Hyong-Keun Yun, 1993

Hyong-Keun Yun (born 1928 in Miwon-ri, Chungcheongbuk-do, Korea; died 2007 in South Korea)

  • Untitled, 93-98, 1993. Oil on linen. 63 x 44 in. (160.4 x 112 cm)
  • Untitled, 93-77, 1993. Oil on linen. 63 x 44 in. (160.4 x 112 cm)
  • Untitled, 93-117, 1993. Oil on linen. 71 x 102 in. (180.7 x 259.6 cm)

Monolith forms built from thin layers of oil pigment on raw linen hold open space between Western and Eastern traditions of abstraction. Hyong-Keun Yun emerged as a leading figure of Korean art during the 1970s, when he reduced his palette to monochrome. Working in umber and cobalt—gradually omitting even the blue—he created what he called “gateways” between earth and sky, substance and void. An oft-referenced encounter with a giant tree, decaying in the woods and becoming one with the soil, inspired the artist to embrace a powerful simplicity he equated with nature. Yun wrote:

What on earth is a painting? I have yet to find the answers. It may be something of a vestige for my consumed life. … I just want to draw something that is nothing, something that is always resounding of its own creation.

Using lines of pigment drawn on barely primed canvas, which he stretched himself and laid directly on the floor of his studio, Yun’s way of working seems as close to elemental as he could get. He is known to have admired traditional Korean objects expressive of an aesthetic that minimized the presence of the hand—vessels that appear formed by fire, stone carved as if shaped by wind—and to have held an affinity for the work of Mark Rothko, another artist to draw space, light, and darkness from the penumbra of paint.  

Hyong-Keun Yun gifted these three paintings to the collection after they were shown at Chinati Foundation in 1994 in an exhibition that expanded on Donald Judd’s presentation of six of Yun’s works at 101 Spring Street, New York, in 1993. The two artist contemporaries met in 1991 through Inkong Gallery in Seoul, South Korea.

Hyong-Keun Yun, “A Stray Thought at the Studio” can be read in full in the Chinati newsletter, volume 2, pp. 11–12.

Donald Judd, untitled works in plywood, 1978

Donald Judd (born 1928 in Excelsior Springs, Missouri; died in 1994 in New York City)

  • Untitled, 1978. Douglas fir plywood. 16 wall works: 19 3/4 x 39 1/4 x 19 3/4 in. (50 x 100 x 50 cm)

This suite of variations within a set form prefigures the 100 works in mill aluminum that Judd would soon begin conceiving for the artillery sheds at Chinati, where the spatial configurations realized in this group of sixteen wall works were developed on a much larger scale of magnitude.

Judd created these wall works at the same time that plans for what would become the Chinati Foundation were first being formulated. Plywood was long an important material for Judd. He began working with painted plywood in his breakthrough floor pieces in the early 1960s and first used exposed, natural plywood in a series of floor works in 1974. The plywood wall pieces in Chinati’s collection form a group composed of sixteen individual works. All sixteen have identical exterior measurements of 50 x 100 x 50 cm, but bear unique internal compositions. Diagonal and vertical divisions based on a 1/2 or a “slot” measurement (1/8 of their depth or height, 1/16 of their length) are recurring motifs.

These motifs and variations appear to come together within the internal composition of a monumental work of 1980: an 80-foot long plywood wall construction. Relative to which, the individual pieces at Chinati appear as elements in a fugue. One of the most intellectually challenging forms of composition, in which each part of a complexly textured work is built from a single musical theme, the fugue is synonymous with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, which Judd greatly admired. That each part is “the first among equals,” further relates this democratic form of composition to Judd’s vision and politics.

To read about the conservation of this work, which was built by Peter Ballantine (Donald Judd’s plywood fabricator from 1971 to 1994), see Francesca Esmay and Roger Griffith, “Untreated Plywood Conservation,” in Chinati’s newsletter, volume 7, pages 17-19.