Chong Gon Byun

b. 1948, Korean

Born in Daegu in 1948, Chong Gon Byun has waged a battle at the crossroads of freedom and oppression. As a figure at the forefront of Hyperrealism, he was awarded the grand prize at the first Dong-a Ilbo Art Exhibition in 1978. In a turn of events, he was later branded as a dissident for his portrayal of an evacuated American airfield during the Yushin order (Fourth Republic). Moving to America to escape political oppression and excessive surveillance, he struggled with poverty, but his newfound cultural life left him feeling intellectually fulfilled. Though his life in America was difficult to the point that he was “carrying death around in [his] pocket,” enjoying creative liberty that would have been unheard of in Korea allowed him to cultivate his artistic practice.

Not long into his time in America, Chong Gon Byun discovered a striking resemblance between himself and objects thrown away on the streets. He began collecting these discarded objects, one at a time, and taking them apart. He felt a certain warmth from these objects that had been so callously thrown away and recognized his own loneliness. He wanted to express the irony of a world where people who abandoned these objects later played a role in the creation and to depict the ills and problems that come with living in it.

Chong Gon Byun adopted a new artistic style— a new technique called assemblage that was in line with the American interest in forms that departed from established artistic trends of the late 20th century, like Pop art or abstract art. His work fuses the novelty of his combination of two distinct objets with the greatest tool in his artistic arsenal, hyperrealism. Attempting to reinterpret the values, norms, and orders upheld by members of modern society, his method of communicating this message to the public more closely resembles a clear linguistic form that transcends the ambiguity of modern art.

After years of being deprived of freedom, Chong Gon Byun's new beginning provided an outlet for his distinctive mode of creative expression that was considered radical and groundbreaking by the American art world. By making great strides in the U.S., he significantly attracted interest in Asian cultures that were still largely unfamiliar in America. Not bound by any particular ideology, his works embodied freedom. Displayed many of his objets on the American stage consistently, he proudly received a warm welcome home alongside Nam June Paik at the 1988 Summer Olympics hosted in Korea. His works were later retroactively celebrated and appreciated within Korea and displayed in exhibitions at renowned museums, including the Gwangju Museum of Art, and Pohang Museum of Steel Art, among others.