Venice 2024: Yoo Youngkuk at Carlo Scarpa’s Fondazione Querini Stampalia
One of Carlo Scarpa’s finest Venetian projects plays host to a celebrated Korean abstract painter for the duration of the Venice Biennale of Art 2024. The presentation of Yoo Youngkuk, a collateral project of the art festival, is organised by Yoo Youngkuk Art Foundation & curated by Kim Inhye.

An exhibition of Yoo Youngkuk, regarded as the first Korean abstract painter, takes over various rooms of Fondazione Querini Stampalia, including spaces that Carlo Scarpa famously remodelled in the early 1960s. Organised by the Yoo Youngkuk Art Foundation and curated by Kim Inhye, a curator at Korea’s National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, the exhibition offers a compelling presentation of the work and life of an artist who lived between 1916 and 2002.


It spans three floors, with the visitor working their way up from Carlo Scarpa’s ground floor, a space designed not to compete with the city’s water and flooding but accept it as part of the architectural site, utilising the exhibition space with a floor of washed concrete slabs and walls of Istrian stone introduced by Scarpa. Here, plinths present Yoo’s lithographic works as a gentle introduction to both the building and artist, the garden view opening conversations with the gestural landscape forms in Yoo’s works.



Many visitors to this Venice show may not have encountered Yoo Youngkuk previously, though now widely considered the pioneer of Korean abstract art. A presentation in the first floor portego outlines the artist’s biography and key life moments with artworks alongside vitrines and display cases of artefacts and cuttings. The story of the artist’s early life is explored, exploring Yoo’s studies in Tokyo in the mid 1930s, establishing himself first in Japan before returning to Korea in 1943, just before the end of Japanese rule. The artist’s experimentation and sculptural exploration is presented across models, sketches, and tests while presented paintings 

After returning to Korea, Yoo had returned to his mountainous hometown of Uljin, but within emerging autocratic regimes, found himself – as with many Korean intellectuals and artists who had studied in Japan – shadowed by the Special Police of Tokyo. To avoid their surveillance, Yoo worked as a fisherman, heading out into the ocean, a shift away from his art practice only furthered with the outbreak of the Korean war in 1950. After the end of the war, Yoo and his family moved to Seoul and the artist devoted himself to painting.


Yoo had said that he liked abstract painting as it has no words, though his canvases do carry a subtle sense of semantic play and drama. On the third floor of Fondazione Querini Stampalia, a greater curation of Yoo’s work is presented. The majority of these works date from the 1960s and 70s, after Yoo’s move to Seoul, with an emphasis on elements of landscape and nature clearly present amongst the geometric and ordered compositions. Motifs recur across the works, suggesting Yoo’s interest in shifting perspectives used in East Asian landscape painting: the high perspective, looking up at a mountain from ground level; the deep perspective, overlooking layers of mountain ridges from above; and the level perspective, gazing at mountains in the distance.

The works here are extractions of landscape and nature – including memories of the Uljin mountains and oceans. They are also, however, profound studies in composition, colour, and texture. These works act as a representation of place, but also of his inner self – in a 1996 interview with Monthly Art magazine, Yoo said: “The mountain changes whenever I look at it. Ultimately, the mountain is not something that lies ahead of me, but something that lies within me.”


Departing the exhibition offers another opportunity to return to Carlo Scarpa’s semi-submersible ground floor, and revisit Yoo’s works with eyes now attuned to the artist’s history and wider practice. Then, a visit to Carlo Scarpa’s immaculate garden of Fondazione Querini Stampalia – itself a game of interjecting geometry and structure within mannered ideas of nature that in some ways continues Yoo’s themes beyond the exhibition spaces.


Yoo Youngkuk is known as the pioneer of Korean abstract art. Born in 1916 in Uljin, South Korea, Yoo’s distinctive visual lexicon is characterised by bold colour fields and expressive applications of paint. With his unique approach to colour, form, and space, Yoo investigated his personal relationship with nature, capturing the majesty of the natural world – particularly the varied landscape of Uljin – through acts of painterly distillation that would lean increasingly into abstract territory.
Yoo began studying painting under artist Murai Masanari at Bunka Gakuin University in Tokyo in 1935, nurturing his interest in abstraction and making a name for himself in the Japanese art world. He returned to Korea in 1943, and the next decade of his life and career was punctuated by several historic crises, including the Pacific War of World War II and the Korean War. During periods of relocation and prolonged breaks from painting precipitated by these upheavals, Yoo’s commitment to his artistic practice never wavered.
Yoo also led groups like the Contemporary Artists Association and New Form Group, helping to rejuvenate the Korean art field with a fresh energy and spirit. Since his death in 2002, Yoo’s reputation has continued to grow thanks to several major retrospective exhibitions. The first solo exhibition of his work outside his native Korea was in November 2023 in Pace Gallery, New York. His paintings are now housed in many leading art institutions, including the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Korea, Leeum Museum of Art and Seoul Museum of Art.
The Yoo Youngkuk Estate is jointly represented by Pace and PKM Galleries.

Kim Inhye has been a curator at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art since 2002. Exhibitions she has curated include, ‘Yoo Youngkuk, 1916-2002’ (2016), ‘Encounters Between Korean Art and Literature in the Modern Age’ (2021) and ‘Yun Hyong-keun Retrospective’, held at Fortuny Museum, Venice (2019). Recently she has contributed writing to: Interpreting Modernism in Korean Art, Routledge (2022); The Space Between: The Modern in Korean Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Delmonico Books D.A.P. (2022); and Yoo Youngkuk: Quintessence, Rizzoli (2020).

The Yoo Youngkuk Art Foundation aims to commemorate the artistic achievements of Yoo Youngkuk as well as the contribution he has made to Korean modern and contemporary art and to succeed in his artistic legacy. The Foundation has been dedicated to collecting, organising, and permanently preserving the artworks of Yoo Youngkuk and primary art history material since its establishment in 2003.
It has been contributing to enhancing the Korean art landscape by hosting academic seminars and publishing books. The Foundation organise and partake in exhibitions at home and abroad, providing an opportunity for the public to enjoy arts and culture while carrying out diverse projects to expand the reach of Yoo’s work.

The Fondazione Querini Stampalia is a cultural institution in Venice founded in 1869 at the behest of Conte Giovannie, the last descendant of the Venetian Querini Stampalia family. The 19th century building includes an archive, a library and a museum of paintings. The library holds almost 400,000 modern books, as well as manuscripts, incunabula, sixteenth-century texts, prints and a vast photographic collection.


A Journey to the Infinite: Yoo Youngkuk is on at Fondazione Querini Stampalia until 24 November 2024, a collateral event of the Venice Biennale of Art. Further details available at:


figs.i,iii,iv,vi,vii,ix,x,xii Installation images courtesy Yoo Youngkuk Art
fig.ii Yoo Youngkuk, Work, 1961, oil on canvas, 136 x 194 cm © Yoo Youngkuk Art Foundation.
fig.v Yoo Youngkuk, Work, 1970, oil on canvas, 106.3 x 106.3 cm © Yoo Youngkuk Art Foundation.
fig.viii Yoo Youngkuk, Work, 1965, oil on canvas, 130 cm x 162 cm © Yoo Youngkuk Art Foundation.
fig.xi Yoo Youngkuk, Work, 1968, oil on canvas, 136 x 136 cm © Yoo Youngkuk Art Foundation.
figs.xii,xvi Carlo Scarpa’s garden, photographs © Carlo Zambon
fig.xiv Yoo Youngkuk, Work, 1975, oil on canvas, 32 x 41 cm © Yoo Youngkuk Art Foundation

publication date
19 June 2024

Abstract, Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Kim Inhye, Japan, Korea, Landscape, Mountain, Painting, Carlo Scarpa, Sea, Uljin, Venice Biennale, Yoo Youngkuk