Meet the K-pop artists bringing Seoul to SoHo art exhibit

Block, Ko Jun, Lee, Kwon, Choi and Dr Kim at the Soho exhibit "SoHo's Got Seoul."
Block, Ko Jun, Lee, Kwon, Choi and Dr Kim at the Soho exhibit “SoHo’s Got Seoul.”
Photo by Amanda Moses

Former South Korean entertainment artists are showing the world that “SoHo’s Got Seoul,” at a new art gallery installation in Manhattan’s shopping mecca. 

Park West Gallery, located at 411 West Broadway, is hosting the first comprehensive exhibit of its kind, showcasing the phenomena of K-Pop by taking attendees behind the scenes of entertainers’ personal lives — including the fame, cyberbullying, expectations, and the battle to regain control of their image.

Compiled by world-renowned curator Dr. Stephanie Seunmgin Kim — who has worked with over 600 artists in 22 cities around the globe in varying artistic capacities over the past 20 years — the exhibit is open from Feb 1 to March 1. The five featured artists, Jae-Yong CHOI, KO Jun, Jian KWON (Solbi), Min-Woo LEE, and Jun SHIM (Negativ) are said to be the pioneers of K-Pop and have made contributions to the entertainment industry through music, acting, photography, and contemporary art. 

Photo by Amanda Moses

As the ever-growing genre known as K-Pop has repeatedly shown, the arts have transcended language barriers bridging together communities with their music as a form of positive healing and inspiration. However, performers also say that fame comes with a steep price and these stars are using art to showcase how they differ from their public persona and the way in which painting can be used as a rebirthing process. It is this duality that inspired Dr. Kim to work with the K-Pop artists turned painters. 

“I’ve always been interested in the intersection between art and entertainment. I thought because [K-Pop artists] are very close to the public, I found their expression very interesting and moving so it has many benefits having more exposure to the arts for the public,” Dr. Kim said. 

Photo by Amanda Moses

The K-Pop industry has built itself on creating a product that provides fans a direct link to their favorite artists, making them feel as though they are experiencing their careers along with them. This form of entertainment takes the lives of their artists and makes it more interactive with fans through continuous social media content, reality television, meet and greets, fan phone calls, and more.  

Yet, there is also a dark side to this world. Artists say they become vulnerable to public scrutiny from everything to their appearances and life choices. Jian Kwon, also known as Solbi, is a singer, television personality, and former member of K-Pop group Typhoon. She shared that art became the catalyst through which she reinvented herself after experiencing cyberbullying during her singing career. 

“I want people to get some healing [from my work.] If the painting could touch their heart and become part of the healing process that would be amazing,” Kwon said.   

Photo by Amanda Moses

Using her hands rather than brush strokes, Kwon creates swirling landscapes that she considers glimpses of paradise reminiscent of artists such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Vincent van Gogh, which is why Dr. Kim thought it would provide a more in-depth experience by placing Kwon’s work adjacent to original Renoir paintings. 

“My profession has been acting in front of the camera, so rather than using a brush [I like] having works using my body,” KWON said, adding that she includes audio lines in her work depicting sound waves. “Music has been my medium so I call this a gravity of music through humming.” 

Dr. Kim describes the exhibition as an intimate expression of the artists’ maturity and commitment to tell their side of the story to the world. When setting up the gallery, she thought that viewers would have a more in-depth experience by seeing the Korean painters’ work next to the historical artists that inspired them.  

KO Jun, known for his tough-guy roles in Korean dramas such as Cheat on Me if You Can, Midnight Runners, The Fiery Priest, and Misty, said he was excited to show another side of himself—a painter whose work is indicative of anime director Hayao Miyazaki.  Jun’s art pieces extrapolate the experience of an actor, from casting calls, character development, and aligning themselves with the roles through a dreamscape design. His work is being exhibited alongside famed painter Toulouse-Lautrec.

Photo by Amanda Moses

“All of my work has voyeurism at the intersection,” Jun said. “As a director as well as actor, everything has to fit into a very detailed plan and follow direction, but with paintings I can follow where my heart goes.”

Singer Min-woo Lee recalls his debut with K-Pop group Shinhwa and then arriving to New York City for the first time in 1999, and states that this exhibit has that same fresh start feeling and marks a new beginning in his life.  His art, which is being portrayed next to Picasso, displays his life experience from his childhood, as a singer, as a soloist and beyond. 

“I want the public to receive my work as a form of therapy for healing for them,” Lee said. “I came to New York for the first time in 1999 as a singer to perform and that was actually the beginning of my career. I see this as a beginning too.  I am really moved [to be here and] to be shown as an artist. It’s extraordinary,” Lee said. 

While all of the painters are veterans of the K-Pop world, Jae-Yong Choi is a renowned contemporary and conceptual artist based in Seoul who was a finalist for the 2013 Arte Laguna Prize in Venice. His work is being displayed alongside German artist Albrecht Dürer.

“I am extremely honored to be shown in New York. It is the biggest center of the art world, and I am extremely grateful,” Choi said.  

Photo by Amanda Moses

Jun Shim (Negativ) is a photographer who has captured images of K-Pop legends such as Super Junior, Girls’ Generation, EXO, Red Velvet, NCT, and others. Utilizing mixed media, Shim’s work is being presented alongside Joan Miró.

According to Park West, the gallery endeavors to fulfill its slogan of providing art for everyone, which is what motivated John Block, Executive Vice President at Park West Gallery, to connect with Dr. Kim on providing an experience that is accessible to everyone.

“We thought what better way to do that than connect the art you see with your eyes with art that you experience with your ears, and so it started with the K-Pop artists concept and then has expanded obviously into all kinds of other things here, but we’re very excited at the prospect of bringing in a new group of people to check out the gallery scene here in Soho,” Block said.

SoHo’s Got Seoul will be on display until March 1 at 411 West Broadway from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

Photo by Amanda Moses