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  • 2014-09-30 ~ 2015-03-29
  • Seoul Gallery 5

Exhibition Overview

Lee Bul, <Civitas Solis II>, 2014 (Photo: Jeon Byung-cheol)
Lee Bul, <Civitas Solis II>, 2014 (Photo: Jeon Byung-cheol)
Lee Bul, <Civitas Solis II>, 2014 (Photo: Jeon Byung-cheol)
Lee Bul, <Civitas Solis II>, 2014 (Photo: Jeon Byung-cheol)
Lee Bul, <Aubade III>, 2014 (Photo: Jeon Byung-cheol)
Lee Bul, <Aubade III>, 2014 (Photo: Jeon Byung-cheol)
Lee Bul, <Aubade III>, 2014 (Photo: Jeon Byung-cheol)
Lee Bul, <Aubade III>, 2014 (Photo: Jeon Byung-cheol)

Hyundai Motor Company and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea have recently finalized a ten-year sponsorship agreement, which includes the creation of the MMCA Hyundai Motor Series, a program to support major projects by prominent Korean artists. The series aims to instill the field of Korean contemporary art with fresh attitudes and new possibilities by sponsoring artists whose works represent the pinnacle of ambition and innovation. By offering some of Korea’s most renowned artists the opportunity to explore a new trajectory of their work, the series aims to elevate their creative will and thereby reinforce the foundation of Korean art and culture.


LEE BUL(b.1964)

The artist chosen for the inaugural installment of the series is Lee Bul (b. 1964), who has firmly established herself as one of the most important contemporary artists, not only in Korea, but in the entire world. Since the late 1990s, Lee has been featured in exhibitions at many of the world’s most prestigious international venues, including the Museum of Modern Art, the New Museum, and the Guggenheim in New York, the Venice Biennale, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, and Mori Art Museum in Tokyo. After beginning her career in the 1980s, Lee has earnestly developed her artistic senses and ideas through projects that continually question and explore contemporary art and society. For much of her career, she has been working overseas, so the MMCA Hyundai Motor Series offers Korean audiences the rare chance to experience her new works.

Viewer Guidelines

on the exhibition MMCA Hyundai Motor Series 2014: LEE BUL

- Children and teens may not enter the gallery. They may only view the work from the entrance.

- The entire gallery itself is the artwork. Please walk slowly along the path between the mirrors.

- The edges of the mirrors may be sharp, so please be very careful while walking along the path.

- For the safety of the viewers, only 5 people will be permitted to enter the gallery at one time.

- Approximately Every 1 hour, fog is emitted inside the gallery. Do not be alarmed, this is a planned part of the




In the 1980s, Lee received a very traditional education in sculpture at Hongik University in Korea. From her earliest works, however, she has actively rebelled against the conventional academic art that tends to dominate the Korean art field. She officially launched her professional career in the late 1980s with a series of provocative performances, installations, and sculptures that scathingly criticized the social and political power structure of patriarchal culture. She hung upside down from a rope while naked, to the accompaniment of a pop song. The work was a powerful visualization of the pain of abortion as well as a public confession about her own experience. The same year, in her outdoor performanc, she wore the makeup of a shaman and a soft costume of a monster with giant tentacles, and then ran through the fields of Jangheung. In another performance, she wore a similar monster outfit when she wandered Gimpo Airport in Korea, Narita Airport in Japan and the streets of downtown Tokyo for twelve days in costume, eliciting various responses from pedestrians. These performances represented her resistance to a number of binary oppositions: human vs. monster, reason vs. feeling, man vs. woman, logic vs. illogic. Furthermore, they were parodies of femininity, which has been identified with the seditious object of exclusion. As such, she raised compelling questions about existing values and conventions.


For Lee Bul, the exhibition at MoMA in 1997 served as a kind of rite of passage for the wider world. After Majestic Splendor, she received the Hugo Boss Prize from the Guggenheim Museum in 1998, which enabled her to create new works focusing on cyborgs, an interest she has maintained ever since. She produced Cyborg W1-W4, a series of similar shapes made from white polyurethane. Cyborgs draw upon elements from art history, science, and the popular imagination to give expression to our fascination with, and anxieties about, the utopian promise of perfectibility through bio- and social engineering and technology. Lee’s karaoke project, first exhibited at the 1999 Venice Biennale – where she was awarded a prize for her contributions to both the Korean national pavilion and the international exhibition – expand her inquiry into the interplay between nature, culture, and technology. The most recent phase of the artist’s development is represented by “Mon grand récit.” 

Mon Grand Récit

Lee’s Mon grand récit series, first shown in 2005, continued to explore the oppressive relationship between the human and society and the gloomy future of science and technology. At the same time, Lee harkened back to some of the central issues of early twentieth-century architecture, with its pursuit of utopia through design. For On Every New Shadow, Lee’s 2007 exhibition at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris, she made to unfold massive installation works, as if reconstituting these themes as landscapes unto themselves. The Mon grand récit series reflects Lee’s views on Jean-François Lyotard, who posited that the so-called “grand narrative,” or metanarrative, was impossible in the age of post-modernism. Recognizing the impossibility of grand narrative, Lee presented various “small narratives” that were fragmented and imperfect, and which continuously floated around with no resolution. Her works were designed to make viewers contemplate the traces of corruption disclosed in history, the failure of modernist idealism, and the specters of modernism that continue to haunt the daily life and consciousness of individuals.

Civitas Solis and Aubade

Lee has now extended the themes of her Mon grand récit series in two new works created for the MMCA Hyundai Motor Series exhibition: Civitas Solis II and Aubade III. The overwhelming scale of Civitas Solis II takes the conventional concept of “installation” to a whole new level, filling the entire exhibition space (33 m long and 7 m high) with a single work. The walls and floor of the space are covered with mirrors, enabling viewers to experience a seemingly infinite expansion of space with no edges or borders. The space transcends the control of our senses and perceptions, thus conjuring an uncanny sense of fear or dread.

The work is inspired by The City of the Sun, a classic utopian text by Tommaso Campanella, a philosopher and socialist of the Italian Renaissance. The City of the Sun depicts a utopian city based on Campanella’s reformative principles. Lee appropriates both the form of a city surrounded by a circular wall and the meaning inherent to that form. Within the endless reflections of the mirrors, the audience will find a flickering sign that reads “CIVITAS SOLIS,” a reversed reflection of bulbs resembling huge flames that are attached to the mirrors.

The expansive scale of the work goes beyond our capacity for perception, thus conjuring a sense of fear, anxiety, and awe. With its peaceful reflected light, the space initially seems to convey tranquility and silence. But there is a terrifying scream hidden within that silence, in the form of fragmented mirrors on the floor, which create fractured images above. The imperfect movement and disjointed flow caused by the mirror fragments effectively shatters the peace of the installation.

Another new work presented in this exhibition is Aubade III, which develops the structure of an existing light tower. The word “aubade” in the title refers to a song or poem about lovers separating at dawn, a popular trope of European lyric poetry from the Middle Ages to the sixteenth century. In an aubade, the image of dawn is typically used as a dramatic expression of unfulfilled romantic love. Aubade III is a huge installation that takes advantage of the 15-m high ceilings in the exhibition space. The work is a visual reinterpretation of Bruno Taut’s Monument des Neuen Gesetzes(1919), as well as the Hindenburg airship, the symbol of modernity in the early twentieth century.

Periodically, the exhibition space suddenly fills with white vapor that is emitted from inside the structure. This vapor makes it impossible for people to see past their own nose, making it very easy for them to lose their sense of direction in the white space. Up near the top of the room, some dots of flickering red lights vaguely hint at some type of signpost. But as the vapor slowly dissipates, people's vision returns, and they are presented with an astonishing scene of a monument and an airship, shining brilliantly in the air above. However, this sight is not only entrancing, but also somewhat ominous, because the diagonal angle of the monument makes it look like a projectile accelerating towards the airship. Moreover, large fragments from the airship float through the air, as if they will never disappear, and could fall to the ground at any time. As such, viewers are forced to reconsider the actual meaning beneath the dazzling appearance.

Lee Bul actively questions the narratives presented by modernist projects purportedly aimed at the freedom and liberation of humanity through the creation of utopia. Furthermore, she addresses the fantasy of perfection that has tantalized us throughout history. By forcing viewers to confront our futile desire for perfection, she unreservedly presents a naked reality that most of us would prefer to avoid. Her works advance, both coldly and hotly, in search of the point that marks the crossroads between life and death, ugliness and beauty, secular and sacred, dream and existence.

  • Period
    2014-09-30 ~ 2015-03-29
  • Organized by/Supported by
    MMCA / Hyundai Motor Company
  • Venue
    Seoul Gallery 5
  • Admission
    4,000won(Tickets for all exhibition at MMCA Seoul)
  • Artist
    Lee Bul
  • Numbers of artworks