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Osang Gwon and The Reinvention of a Medium

Neil Sefah

Apr 26, 2017

Osang Gwon may very well be the most interesting face in contemporary sculpture right now. His style is unprecedented, as his sculptures reconstructing subjects from photos as taken by a camera from multiple angles, evoking feelings of both classical reliefs and contemporary photography and print. The result is a fragmented form that gives a provides a look that near defies definition. The technical ability, planning and execution of his pieces are awe inspiring. The blending of genres and the reimagining of pre-existing image gives his works a feeling of both groundedness and fantasy. However, in the eyes of most of the art community, his work shows something much more. He is one of the contemporary artists who seems to breach past the original bounds of what long running mediums were known for into a new territory, mixing well established media like papier-mâché and collage with an unlikely counterpart, sculpture. The result was an artform that can be read as his own, what he calls “photo-sculpture”. He reinvents the medium and gives it his own unique flavor while sensibilities of the still remain in his work, especially in his process.


From what he’s revealed to the public before in interviews, Gwon developed this artstyle of his during his time spent in college, at Hongik University in Seoul, Korea. There, he found himself wanting to work in a form of sculpture that had a lighter feel and weight in comparison to the heavier materials that define most sculpture, like clay or metal. He decided to use paper, and to further that-- photography. Debuting with his unique brand of photo-based photography in 1999, with his series Deodorant Type, his work made a mark on the art world for being able to develop a new way for photography and sculpture to be used -- in tandem. Since his debut, he has had many a show at the Arario Gallery in Korea, held an exhibition at the Embassy of Switzerland, collaborated with artists like the band Keane and the Korean celebrity G-Dragon, and worked with major companies like Nike.



Untitled G-Dragon, 2015, C-print, mixed media, size variable, Presented at PEACEMINUSONE_Beyond the Stage, Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul. Image courtesy of the artist and Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul
Aztec Patter, 2013, C-print, mixed media, 85.4 x 53.14 x 32.7 in, Installation view of Osang Gwon Solo Show Recontemporary at Waterfall Mansion and Gallery, New York 2016. Image courtesy of the artist and Waterfall Mansion and Gallery, New York



Osang Gwon’s unique process for developing his trademark glassy sculptures involves a mixture of a traditional sculpting backbone, extensive use of papier-mâché, and resin. To start, the subject of the piece is photographed in a session that can last for hours to half a day, gathering visual reference for the most vital parts of the body when it comes to the piece and then getting reference for the rest. The bulk of his sculptures start with wire-frame armatures to define the figure, with photograph papier-mâché overlaying the armatures. To fix the problem of the pieces being hollow like some papier-mâché artwork, the frames are filled and lined with carved Styrofoam, built to match the proportions of the figure being captured, though resized depending on the impact the piece is intended to have. The photographs are glued on top of them, and then the paper is varnished with an epoxy resin to preserve the work. It’s can be a long and extensive process according to him, originally taking as long as two months, however, as he’s grown in popularity and prestige, he’s been able to hire assistants to speed up the development time for a sculpture, and the pieces have a turnaround time of around one month.


Gwon may not have been the first artist to try and bring these two very different art forms together, but he the work he has produced has become a recent codifier for what it means to try and use these two genres in a work. Naturally, photography was used to capture existing sculptures before, to preserve and showcase them in places where the piece couldn’t go. Though with his vision, he was able to use these two art forms to complement each other like never before. To put it in his own words: “My artworks are based on the history of sculpture and consists of the images found in contemporary urban life. My sculpture is the story of ‘now’”. This is apparent in the fact that the many photographs he takes to make these sculptures are reminiscent of the constant stream of images that we see in our daily lives. His goal is to use these feelings and aura that historical sculptures evoke from their viewers, and apply additional interest by breaking it up and putting it together again with his novel techniques and modern edge, giving the pieces a sense of imperfection and thusly, humanity.



Installation view of Osang Gwon Solo Show, New Structure and Relief (2016), Arario Gallery, Seoul. Image courtesy of the artist and EAZEL.



EAZEL has a few of Osang Gwon’s most recent exhibitions on display, namely his solo exhibition at the Waterfall Gallery in New York, Osang Gwon: Recontemporary, and one of his exhibitions at the Arario Gallery Seoul, New Structure and Relief. In Recontemporary, Osang Gwon puts together some of his photo sculptures from the past three years. Pieces like Aztec Patter and Metabo, have him doing what he does best. In New Structure and Relief, Osang Gwon takes a much more experimental approach, relative to his more famous photo-sculptures. Here, he captures objects and enlarges them in large, flat slabs, and then places them all within one large space, creating a maze of reliefs and sculptures. If the previous paragraphs and the readability of his work on our platform wasn’t cause enough for you give him a look, then please. If you have a preference for the sculptures of the old masters, would like to look at what the world of contemporary art is developing next, or just want see something new, then I can guarantee you that he’s worth your time.