Artist Lee Bae captures ethereal Korean aesthetics at Venice Biennale

April 19, 2024

If you seek to appreciate the essence of Korean aesthetics during the Venice Biennale, the Wilmotte Foundation could be the ideal destination for exploration.

The cultural institution offers a captivating platform for exploring the artistic odyssey of Lee Bae, celebrated for his mastery of charcoal as his principal medium of expression.

On Thursday, the lengthy entrance corridor of the exhibition venue was adorned with a captivating video installation titled “Burning,” offering visitors a mesmerizing initial glimpse into Lee’s artwork.

Upon stepping into the expansive exhibition space, visitors may find themselves engulfed by a sudden wash of pristine white, as they encounter the ethereal “Brushstroke” pieces adorning both the floors and walls.

The paintings are made with charcoal remnants from the Daljip Taewoogi ritual, a Korean tradition where the community gathers to honor cyclical cosmology, the belief that the universe undergoes recurring cycles of birth, existence and destruction.

During this ritual in February, the New Year’s wishes of the villagers in Cheongdo, North Gyeongsang Province, Lee’s hometown, were burned. The artist then repurposed the resulting charcoal to create these evocative artworks.


Alongside these captivating works stands the towering 4.6-meter granite sculpture named “Meok,” crafted to evoke the ancient ink stick — an emblem of intergenerational knowledge exchange in both scholarly and artistic realms. Serving as a focal point for meditation and introspection, “Meok” invites viewers to engage in profound reflection.

At the exhibition hall, the 68-year-old Lee emphasized the “extra significance” of the Asian ink stick, attributing to it a crucial role as “a means of self-expression and communication in Asian culture,” while also acknowledging its pivotal role in the development of Asian culture.

“Korean culture didn’t just emerge. It has deep and longstanding roots,” Lee said of the purpose of his exhibition at the biennale.

“I want to connect Korean tradition with the modern era by reinterpreting the Daljip Taewoogi ritual through contemporary art,” he said.

Displaying the essence of his artistic journey at the limited exhibition venue has been “a challenge,” he said. “But it’s worth it, as it might open a new chapter.”