Lee Bul (b. 1964, Yeongju; lives and works in Seoul, South Korea) works across a diverse range of media—from drawing, sculpture, and painting to performance, installation, and video—to examine the intricacies of shared human consciousness and the myths and folklore that accompany history. She investigates the liminal space between binaries such as the individual and the collective, and contradictory feelings such as isolation and claustrophobia. Her installations and sculptures explore universal themes including the utopian desire to achieve perfection through technological advances and the dystopic suspicions and failures that often result. Though varied in material and content, the works are united in their exploration of structural systems—from the individual body to larger architectural frameworks that encompass cities and utopian societies. For Lee Bul, humankind’s fascination with technology ultimately refers to our preoccupations with the human body and our desire to transcend flesh in pursuit of immortality. This interest often materializes in her work in the form of a cyborg—a being that is both organic and machine—the closest thing to a human that truly achieves this ideal. Lee Bul considers the cyborg a conceptual metaphor in its personification of social attitudes to technology; simultaneously a paragon and a monster.
Lee Bul received a B.F.A. in sculpture from Hongik University, Seoul, in 1987. Solo exhibitions of her work have been organized at the Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul, South Korea (2021); Manege Central Exhibition Hall, Saint Petersburg, Russia (2020); SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, GA (2019); Hayward Gallery, London, United Kingdom (2018); Martin Gropius-BauArt, Berlin, Germany (2018); Art Sonje Center, Seoul, South Korea (2016 and 2012); Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, Canada (2015); Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France (2015); National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, South Korea (2014); Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg (2013); Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan (2012); Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris, France (2007); Power Plant, Toronto, Canada (2002); New Museum, New York, NY (2002); and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY (1997). Her work has been included in important group exhibitions and biennials such as Shell and Resin: Korean Mother-of-Pearl and Lacquer, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY (2021); Human, 7 Questions, Leeum Museum, Seoul, South Korea (2021); Minds Rising Spirits Tuning, 13th Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju, South Korea (2021); MMCA Permanent Collection 2020+, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, South Korea (2020); Phantom Plane, Cyberpunk in the Year of the Future, Tai Kwun Contemporary, Hong Kong (2019); Negotiating Boundaries, Korean Culture Centre UK, London, United Kingdom (2019); Cosmologic Arrows, Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm, Sweden (2019); the 58th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy (2019); Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today, Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, Boston, MA (2018); Score_ Music for Everyone, Daegu Art Museum, Daegu, South Korea (2017); X: Korean Art in the Nineties, Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul, South Korea (2016); The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed, 20th Biennale of Sydney, Sydney, Australia (2016); Contemporary Art at the Guggenheim, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY (2015); Burning Down the House, 10th Gwangju Biennale, Gwangju, South Korea (2014); Prospect 1: A Biennial for New Orleans, New Orleans, LA (2008); Not Only Possible, But Also Necessary: Optimism in the Age of Global War, 10th International Istanbul Biennial (2007); and dAPERTutto, 48th Venice Biennale (1999).
Her work is in numerous international public and private collections, including the Amore Pacific Museum of Art, Seoul, South Korea; Artsonje Center, Seoul, South Korea; Bernard Arnault Collection, Paris, France; British Museum, London, United Kingdom; Daegu Museum of Art, Daegu, South Korea; Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Fukuoka, Japan; Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, New Zealand; Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul, South Korea; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Los Angeles, CA; M+, Hong Kong, Hong Kong; Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan; Musee d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada; National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul, South Korea; Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul, South Korea; The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; Tate Modern, London, United Kingdom; Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Australia; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN.
In 2019, Lee Bul received the Ho-Am Prize for The Arts, which is awarded to people of Korean heritage who have contributed to the enrichment of culture and arts for humankind. In 2014, she received the Noon Award at the 10th Gwangju Biennale, given to an established artist who has produced the most experimental work that embodies the theme of the biennale. In 1999, Lee Bul was awarded an honorable mention at the 48th Venice Biennale for her contribution to both the Korean Pavilion and the international exhibition curated by Harald Szeemann.