Past Exhibition

Hein-kuhn Oh: Middlemen

May 3 – June 27, 2012

Art Sonje Center

Hein-kuhn Oh: Middlemen

Art Sonje Center is pleased to present Hein-kuhn Oh’s solo exhibition Middlemen from May 3 to June 17, 2012, which shows portrait photographs of soldiers. This is the first time to present a portrait series of soldiers portraying them as individuals, as art in Korea, where is under suspension of fire for 62 years. Oh has documented the portraits of the army, navy and air force throughout Korea, supported by the Ministry of National Defense since 2009.

Since his 1999 exhibition Ajumma at Art Sonje Center, Oh has been revealing prejudices and stereotypes inherent to Korean society through his portrayal of women and the anxiety they represent. The Middlemen series, on the other hand, presents an unstable male state of mind. In addition, the artist has shifted his reflection onto the military so as to examine the concept of concrete ‘we’ rather than the groups that correspond to conventional notions in the society. However, while taking photographs of military troops, which signify a typical collective body symbolizing masculinity and the obligation duty in Korean society, he dis

covers that the concept of “we” is erased when facing individual soldiers. Therefore, Oh’s portraits convey the obscure anxieties of being situated in the middle ground of the “we” and “I” conflict.

Through the viewpoint of an absolute outsider, Oh excludes photographic devices such as harsh lighting, unusual casting and fabricated situations. He neither criticizes the military, nor represents it in a positive light. His neutral attitude is in correlation with the use of a middle tone and lighting in photography. This is also his photographic technique which he intends to capture ambivalent “middleness”. In his previous works, the figures were highlighted; however, Oh also focuses on the background of a picture to express a sense of isolation. The backgrounds of his pictures are a motif that takes on the role of Mise-en-Scene by intentionally being juxtaposed with objects in his photography.

Hein-kuhn Oh states that his narrative perspective, which views the military asMiddlemen, is merely his own reaction, but that it does not approach the essence of his subjects. The issue in his works is how one looks at an object, not what the actual object is. Thus, his photographs of soldiers arouse diverse responses depending on viewers’ different personal and individual backgrounds as well as their experiences of military duty.

During the exhibition, docents lead tours for visitors 4 times a day and an artist talk is scheduled on June 2, Sat at 4pm. The artist’s monograph Middlemen will be published to accompany the exhibition.

Since 1998 Hein-kuhn Oh has worked as a documentary photographer capturing the social landscape of Korean society. For the past ten years, his portrait photographs have reflected upon specific social groups within Korea such as the Ajumma (middle-aged women), female high school students and girls. The artist reveals the instability and fragilities associated to desire and emotion when individuals are positioned in the middle of contemporary social categories. The individuals in his work do not stand out nor are they extraordinary. Instead, their faces expose ambivalent anxieties and the artist has built up his artistic practice of revealing this incompleteness, this state of being in between, this “middleness”. His previous series include Americans Them(1989-91), Itaewon Story (1993-94), Gwangju Story (1995-96), Ajumma (1997-99),Girl’s Act (2003-04) and Cosmetic Girls (2007-08).


May 3 – June 27, 2012
Art Sonje Center
Hein-kuhn Oh
Hosted by
Art Sonje Center
Curated by: Samuso
Curated by