London’s Hayward Gallery Shuts Due to Fire on the Eve of Lee Bul’s Highly Anticipated Solo Show

The gallery hopes to reopen on Friday.

Installation view of Lee Bul, Willing To Be Vulnerable (2015-2016) at Hayward Gallery, 2018. © Lee Bul 2018. Photo by Linda Nylind.

London’s Hayward Gallery has been forced to close on the opening day of a major solo show dedicated to the South Korean artist Lee Bul. One of her works caught fire yesterday, forcing the private view of the exhibition “Lee Bul: Crashing,” to be called off. 

“During an incident yesterday, an artwork caught fire in a contained space within the Hayward Gallery which required attendance from the fire brigade,” a spokesperson for the gallery confirmed to artnet News.

The artist and the museum decided together to remove the artist’s work Majestic Splendor (1991–97) from the exhibition for safety purposes ahead of the opening, but a small fire broke out during the de-installation. While the press preview yesterday morning went ahead, the evening opening was canceled at the last minute. 

This isn’t the first time the work, which comprises a fish decked out in sequins, has caused trouble. The smell of Majestic Splendor made visitors to Bul’s 1997 show at the Museum of Modern Art so nauseous that it had to be removed. To avoid the same problem, the fish have since been placed in a sealed plastic bag with the chemical potassium permanganate. But the presence of the chemical increased the chances that other already flammable materials would catch fire.

“Superficial damage was sustained in a confined section of Gallery 1,” the spokesperson said, explaining that the gallery will remain closed today and tomorrow to deal with “remedial cosmetic work.” Staff anticipate reopening on Friday, June 1, to inaugurate the show, which will run through Hayward’s 50th anniversary in July and close August 19.

One security contractor was assessed for the effects of smoke inhalation as a precaution in the wake of the blaze, the spokesperson said.

Installation view of Lee Bul, Via Negativa II (2014) at Hayward Gallery, 2018 (interior detail). © Lee Bul 2018. Photo by Mark Blower.

The Hayward reopened its space in London’s Southbank Centre at the end of January after a two-year closure for refurbishment. For its latest show, Lee has taken over the gallery’s expansive space with more than 100 works spanning the late ‘80s to the present. The show includes installation, painting, and performance, transforming the space into a futuristic landscape replete with alien bodies, cyborgs and Kusama-like mirrored environments.

The artist’s work recalls everything from science fiction stories to Korea’s own quickfire urban development and presents an environment teetering on the edge dystopia. Indeed, the fire broke out among a number of depicted disaster experiences that include a monumental foil Zeppelin, Willing To Be Vulnerable – Metalized Balloon (2015–16), that references the 1937 Hindenburg disaster, and a new sculptural work, Scale of Tongue (2017–18), which references the sinking of the Sewol Ferry in 2014, an event that left 304 people dead.

Installation view of Lee Bul Monster Black (2011) and Civitas Solis II (2014) at Hayward Gallery, 2018. © Lee Bul 2018. Photo by Mark Blower.

Lee received an honorable mention at the 48th Venice Biennale in 1999 for her contributions to the Korean Pavilion and Harald Szeemann’s international exhibition. She later received the Noon Award for established artists making experimental work at the 10th Gwangju Biennale in 2014.

Lee Bul: Crashing” is on at London’s Hayward Gallery from May 30 through August 19.

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