Moonjoo Lee, Painter of New Nature: Urban Decay, Debris, Demolished Buildings

by Ali Madad

Palast der Republik & O2 World, 2007, photocollage and acrylic on canvas

While I was completing my graduate studies at the Cranbrook Academy of Art I would often wander over to the painting department and sate my visual appetite. I spent most of my time in the studio of Moonjoo Lee; her coy, but cordial, disposition does not adequately prepare you for the bravura she unleashes upon the canvas. Her works are captivating in content, the familiar overturned; brilliant in execution and technique; commanding in scale and attention.

Naesu-dong, Seoul in 2004, 2006, acrylic & oil on canvas, 63" x 167"

Moonjoo is interested in the space of cities. Her works reflect a concern with: piles of dirt and debris from demolished buildings, which become a new form of "nature" in the urban environment; uprooted street signs, rusty grates and pipes from the ground look like the findings from an archeological excavation of our age.

Broadway, Bushwick, Brooklyn, 2004-2005, acrylic on canvas, 85” x 118”

Through an inventive use of format and media she has experimented with a variety of imagemaking and presentation techniques. Her early works, a brutal clash of material and construction, gave way to more stylized compositions. Making works in the various cities she has lived in, has given Moonjoo a diversity of inspiration, albeit focused on the same 'new nature.'

City Under Construction, 2003, acrylic on tarp & wood, 7’ x 14’ x 6’

Critic Wolf Jahn writes about Moonjoo's most recent residency at Künstlerhaus Bethanien in 2007/2008, describing how she: scouted two particularly interesting sites: the construction of the O2-Arena and the deconstruction of the GDR’s former Palace of the Republic. Blended into one single image (Palast der Republik & O2 World, 2007), the two motifs create a slightly ambivalent impression owing to the particular technique used in the “demolition” of the Palace: since it was gradually dismantled rather than demolished, it continued to look as though “under construction”. Accordingly, Lee’s picture conveys the general sense of a building in the making. Desolation in turn appears much more subtly in the guise of a pile of rubble over which grass has grown in the course of time.

Mission Main Redevelopment 1, 2001, acrylic & pastel on board, 32" x 52" x 28"

More work by Moonjoo Lee is online at

Credits: Photos from Moonjoo Lee.


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