Audio Commentary


Along with Kim Whanki, Yoo Youngkuk was one of the frontrunners of Korean abstract art in the early 1930s. Throughout his life, Yoo steadfastly pursued his own vision without conceding to popular trends. This spirit of determination was evident from a young age, when he chose to attend Bunka Gakuen University in Tokyo, a school known for its leftist leanings, rather than the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, where many other Korean artists of the early twentieth century studied. Although Bunka Gakuen did not offer a major in abstract art, Yoo was fascinated by the new movement and determined to study it. 

After the Korean War, when Korean artists finally gained full access to American and European culture, abstract art quickly rose to become the dominant style of the postwar period. But while Kim Whanki and others eventually moved on to new styles and experiments, Yoo held fast to the fundamental elements of abstract art, continuously painting eye-catching works of triangles, rectangles, and lines with radiant primary colors. 

Composition was produced several years after the Korean War, which is when Yoo Youngkuk was finally able to dedicate himself to painting full time. During the difficult time of independence and the war, Yoo had to support his family by fishing and selling homemade liquor from his own brewery. Thus, for about ten years, he did not produce any paintings. In the mid-1950s, he decided to move his family to Seoul, where he focused on his painting career and formed the influential art group called “Modern Art Association.” Composition shows the beginnings of his trademark style, using basic shapes, lines, curves, and colors to suggest a natural landscape, such as the sun setting behind a mountain ridge.