(B. 1968)
Library No. 5
signed and titled 'Kyong-tack, Hong Library (V)' in English; dated '2001-2005' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
130.3 x 162.2 cm. (51 1/4 x 63 7/8 in.)
Painted in 2001-2005
Christie's Hong Kong, 29 May 2005, Lot 360
Acquired from the above by the present owner
CAIS Gallery, Hong Kyoung Tack, Seoul, Korea, 2008 (illustrated, p. 18).

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Lot Essay

Hong Kyoung Tack's 2005 Library No. 5 (Lot 1571) offers a surfeit of flamboyant colors and emblematic objects, compressed into the composition, leaving no space unoccupied. After the initial visual onslaught of color and form, the viewer slowly discerns what appears to be a private altar, an architectural space structured by an upturned chair, and filled with a personal collection of presumably symbolic objects, including animal skulls, plastic and wooden toy dolls, and the figures of Adam and Eve standing atop an open text. Behind all of this, the extremities of a human figure emerge - a boot in the lower right quadrant, another foot emerging on the left, hands clutching the books, and a single eye peering at the religious tableau through a gap in the shelves.

Hong Kyong Tack's works display his complex and eccentric persona and his long-standing contemplation of the relationship between religion and popular culture. As a child, the artist was struck by the seemingly arbitrary placement of a holy church on a city street, surrounded by bars, restaurants, and commercial shops. He felt this juxtaposition epitomized the underlying tension of maintaining religious faith in the face of the commodity fetish of popular consumer culture. As result, he has pursued an art practice that seduces the viewer with a colorful and technical virtuosity that belies the seriousness of his concerns.

The aggregated piles of books create a hypnotic and nearly impossible space, dense but not stable, suggesting the obsessive personality behind its accumulation. They are everywhere but on the shelves. Hong inserts a multitude of symbolic objects that give the composition an unexpected philosophical depth. The monochromatic and programmatic piles of books are dotted with naturally rendered human and animal skulls. The tableau of assorted objects is reminiscent of the beloved toys of one's youth, preserved into adulthood.

Hong's technical proficiency and dense assortment of personal and universal symbols give us a sense to his rich and complicated view of the contemporary world. Books might conventionally be viewed as symbols of knowledge and tradition, but here they become bearers of a dizzying but meaningless array of color and stimulation, contributing not to enlightenment but to a claustrophobic environment. The skulls are a classical symbol of human mortality, and the Renaissance-style Adam and Eve are of course central figures of the Old Testament. The figure behind the objects has an ambiguous relationship to the space; his booted leg appears to be tied to the chair; his other foot has been instrumentalized as a pencil holder, and his hands clutch the books at different angles, suggesting the entire scene, however orderly, is maintained by only the most precarious feat of balance and might come toppling down with any movement. As such Hong is not necessarily suggesting a return to faith or an adherence to Christianity in particular, but wryly depicting the near impossibility of maintaining a spiritual balance in the modern world.

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