A Korean Wave in ULTIMATE

A Korean Wave in ULTIMATE

Discover five trailblazing Korean artists featured in our London Photographs Auction this May.

Discover five trailblazing Korean artists featured in our London Photographs Auction this May.

Jung Lee, Heart, 2018. Photographs London.

Each work in Phillips’ ULTIMATE collection is on offer exclusively in our 19 May London Photographs auction. Below, we highlight five Korean artists whose work spans generations and represents the multiplicity of approaches to image-making emerging from the nation. Read on to discover what makes these captivating works ULTIMATE.


Jung Lee

Jung Lee (b. 1972) explores the power of words through personified, text-based neon installations set in natural landscapes. Her image-making process begins with words or phrases that are common yet thought-provoking. She then imagines an unfamiliar location in which to place them. For the artist, her chosen word or phrase is the protagonist who has traveled to a deserted, unknown place.

In the heavy snow, I tried to imagine and express the heart of a traveler who leaves his heart behind.
—June Lee

In the present work from 2018, the neon word “Heart” illuminates the forest edge, bathing the snowy landscape in a soft, pink light. This dreamy yet lonely setting invites the viewer to reflect on the reverberations that the word “Heart” evokes. This print marks the artist’s debut at Phillips and is AP1 from the sold-out edition of 5 plus 2 APs. The image exists only in this size and edition.

Based in Seoul, Jung Lee has exhibited widely, including at the Seoul Museum of Art, and her work resides in Hong Kong’s prestigious Burger Collection. Notable collaborations include the album cover for Maroon 5’s V in 2014 and a neon installation for Saint Laurent in 2021.

Rala Choi

Rala Choi, A woman lying on the sofa, 2018. Photographs London.

Also from 2018, in Rala Choi’s (b. 1987) A woman lying on the sofa, we see the juxtaposition of a seemingly forlorn figure with one arm covering her eyes against the dazzling gold of her dress, the bold red of her lipstick, and the luxurious fabric draped across the sofa. “I want my photography to embody contradictory emotions,” explains the artist, “such as loneliness and warmth.” He continues, “The act of lying down is typically associated with comfort or relief; however, I saw my own emptiness and depression through looking at her lying down.”

Shot using film, this striking image encapsulates the self-taught photographer’s painterly aesthetic and skillful use of dynamic color to achieve maximum expressiveness. The present work is number 1 from the edition of 1, is unique in this size, and represents the artist’s auction debut. Based in Seoul, Rala Choi has exhibited internationally and was awarded the Photography Grand Prix at the 37th International Festival of Fashion, Photography and Accessories, Hyères in 2022.

Byung-Hun Min

I focused on expressing the depths of human emotion and inner psyche through my work. 
—Byung-Hun Min

As one of South Korea’s most established image-makers, Byung-Hun Min (b. 1955) is renowned for his highly emotive photographs that highlight the transience of our world. MG247, 2010, on offer at Phillips this May, is part of his 2007–2013 series on nudes for which the artist chose ordinary people to pose for him to capture “the informal, genuine, and natural feel” of his subjects.

Byung-Hun Min, MG247, 2010. Photographs London.

Here, a minimalist image is achieved by seamlessly setting the sensual lines of the woman’s back against an enveloping charcoal-gray background. Like many of the figures in the series, the unidentifiable subject, turned away from the viewer, becomes almost abstracted as she blends into her foggy surroundings, heightened through Min’s blunt cropping of the image. The most laborious stage of his image-making process occurs in the darkroom where he works exclusively in analogue to produce the velvety finish of his distinctive monochromatic images. This painstaking process ensures that each work may appear shrouded in a delicate veil of mist.

Min’s works have been widely exhibited and reside in several institutions, including the Santa Barbara Museum of Modern Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea holds a smaller-sized print of the present image. This print on offer is AP1 from the sold-out edition of 3 plus 1 AP.

JeeYoung Lee

JeeYoung Lee, Resurrection from Stage of Mind, 2011. Photographs London.

For her ongoing Stage of Mind series, JeeYoung Lee (b. 1983) seamlessly blends reality with artifice, transporting us to her inner landscape. To create the fantastical vision of Resurrection, offered here, Lee painted her handmade paper lotus props and flooded her studio with fog and dry ice before staging herself as the protagonist and then photographing the final composition. Inspired by the Korean folktale of Shim Cheong — about a young woman who drowns herself in the sea and comes back to life inside a blooming lotus — Lee explores the meaning of death and resurrection while depicting herself here as a symbol of purity, strength, and resilience, surrounded by a sacred lotus forest.

The figure within a lotus blooming implies a stronger self who was just born again and is facing a new world.
—JeeYoung Lee

Her creative process ends with the destruction of her meticulously handcrafted installation. “The process of destroying the stage,” explains Lee, “allows me to transcend the complicated emotions that led me to create it in the first place.”

The Seoul-based artist has exhibited her Stage of Mind series internationally, including at the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum, the Singapore Art Museum, and the Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego. The present work is AP2 from the sold-out edition of 5 plus 2 APs and exists only in this size and edition. Another print of this image is held at the Incheon Foundation for Arts & Culture in South Korea.

Jungjin Lee

It’s more like feeling the image than seeing it. The texture, the black and white and the light and shade are all parts of my body and yours too.
—Jungjin Lee

Jungjin Lee, Wind 04-54, 2004. Photographs London.

This oversized, panoramic work is an exceptional example of Korean artist Jungjin Lee’s (b. 1961) unique image-making process of hand coating hanji (Korean mulberry paper) with photographic emulsion. Unlike her later works, which are reprinted digitally, the Wind series from 2004–2007 marks a 15-year culmination of her physically demanding method of creating large, handmade analogue prints, resulting in poetic nuances in texture and tonality.

“I had to spend many days and nights printing a photo on hanji and I was not able to control the quality consistently,” explains the artist. “It was impossible to produce editions of my works with the same original film because the manual printing resulted in slightly different photographs each time.”

Taken in the desert in New Mexico, Wind 04-54 reveals the wreckage of a school bus in the center of a vast landscape with one other vehicle in the far-left distance. Rendered in delicate monochrome, this work epitomizes “a continuity of solitariness” that Lee finds in the places she photographs.

Lee has exhibited widely, notably a major retrospective at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea in 2018 and her work resides in many prominent collections. The present work is number 3 from the sold-out edition of 3 plus 1 AP. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, and the Goeun Museum of Photography, Busan each holds another print of this image.


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