Lee Bul - Crashing | Hayward Gallery
What a weird show this is! Following their stellar Gursky retrospective earlier in the year, and some bad juju prior to opening when one of the works caught fire, what remains is a majorly varied grab-bag of paintings, installations, costume, architectural maquettes, a light show and a big-ass zeppelin. It’s less of a sensory assault than a really expensive jumble sale.
The show definitely highlights that Lee Bul is epically productive. Outside of the Hayward’s concrete walls, I’d seen a show of new work from her earlier in the year at Thaddeus Ropac, my first of hers, and it was way glitzier than anything that I saw at Hayward. It also focused on only one tiny part of her repertoire: fantasy architectural maquettes, done up in crystals, metal shards and ropes.
So - I really liked the plenitude and breadth of what’s on show. But I think the artist’s hamstrung by some odd curatorial choices. Lee’s hilariously confrontational performance pieces from the late 80s and early 90s, for example, totally new to me and totally riveting, are relegated to six tiny screens in a side gallery. The much more inert zeppelin - ‘Willing to be Vulnerable’, (2015-16) - while very pretty, gets an entire massive upstairs room to itself.
Worst is the ‘City of the Sun’ installation which ends the show. It’s definitely technically impressive: forming a labyrinth of black glass, interspersed with panels of lightbulbs. It’s definitely Insta-friendly. Perhaps too much, though: even on a late opening towards the end of the show’s run, the queue snaked around the room. And with only four people allowed in at once, progress was pretty slow, and the end result underwhelming. Though maybe I got off lightly, an attendant told me that wait times were two hours earlier in the summer.
It’s a bad impression to leave with, because so much of the rest is amazing. I loved the sinisterly biomorphic costumes, with wormy wriggles shooting out of the sleeves, one huge red ‘dress’ that bears a stomach-churning resemblance to a ‘rat king’, and the ineffably cute but sinister ‘Cyborg’ series. The large-scale sculptures are also fascinating. My favourite of all was ‘Thaw’, a block of translucent ice that, you can see when you look closely, contains a waxwork of the corpse of Park Chung-hee, the brutal South Korean dictator.
Elsewhere is ‘Heaven and Earth’, a dirty tiled floor and industrial looking bath, filled with pitch black water. (Park Jong Chul, a student activist against his namesake’s regime, died following water torture in 1987, in a death emblematic of the bad old days.) Hayward’s imaginatively reconfigured downstairs space is a great host for these revelatory works.
It’s a shame that the order of rooms wasn’t reversed, so that the visitor could have left on a high.
Lee Bul: Crashing is at Hayward Gallery (London). 1 June - 19 August 2018.