Hwang Seontae: The Power of Light | Pontone Gallery

This exhibition shows scenes of well-appointed, but empty modernist interiors from Korean artist Hwang Seontae. They’re light boxes, with sandblasted glass fronts and cold LED lights, the cable powering each scene discreetly boxed in.

In these imaginary rooms, the light comes from the windows: all of the works on show have the same title, The Space with Sunshine. It’s sunny outside, meaning that strong shadows are cast on the wooden floorboards. I’m not smart enough to recognise the furnishings, but they’re surely meant to be expensive. All the rooms are totally depopulated, which maybe explains the absolute orderliness of these interiors.

Hwang Seontae - The Space with Sunshine

I kept asking myself, are these scenes lovely or sinister? Are the spaces waiting for people to arrive, or have they left? Were they never here? The (excellent) show notes state:

Drama springs out of what first appears anodyne and noncommittal, a formal exercise in symmetry and harmonic arrangement…. Our costly refuges, beautiful and soothing as they may be, are fragile holding-pens for all the messy turmoil of our lives.

It all made me think of the calming interiors that have featured on this site recently: the painter Eric Fischl’s Krefeld Project, or Candida Höfer’s photos of grand libraries and theatres. Like Fischl, Hwang’s scenes are fancily furnished and sunlit. Like Höfer, they’re depopulated. In all three, there’s something sinister within all that placid beauty.

Hwang Seontae: The Power of Light is at Pontone Gallery (London). 05 November - 05 December 2021