Korean and Chinese artists find commonalities : Creatives from the two countries share their perspectives for the ‘China & Korea Avant Garde Art’ exhibition on Jeju Island

Aug 11,2018
The artists participating in the “Korea & China Avant Garde Art” at the opening of the exhibition on Jeju Island on Aug. 3. From left: Yang Tae-geun, Kim Keun-joong, Kim Dong-yoo, Wu Mingzhong, Hong Kyoung-tack, Wang Qingsong, Koh Kwang-pyo, AAMA President Park Chul-hee, Feng Zhengjie, Lee Gil-woo, Lim Taek and Zhou Chunya. [ASIA ART MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATION]
Group exhibitions are nothing new, but the newly opened “China & Korea Avant Garde Art” kicked off in a remarkable way. What made it special wasn’t the size of the exhibit, the number of artists participating, the location or even the artwork on display. What made the exhibition’s opening on Aug. 3 the landmark art event of the summer is the fact that 11 of the 12 participating artists were in attendance, flying all the way to Jeju Island to promote international friendship through art.

The opening ceremony of the “China & Korea Avant Garde Art” exhibition held at the Jeju World Natural Heritage Center was attended by artists from Korea and China, along with members of the non-profit Asia Art Management Association (AAMA), the organizer of the event. Prominent figures in the Chinese art scene Zhou Chunya, Wang Qingsong, Feng Zhengjie and Wu Mingzhong stood side-to-side with Korean artists Hong Kyoung-tack, Kim Dong-yoo, Kim Keun-joong, Koh Kwang-pyo, Lee Gil-woo, Lim Taek and Yang Tae-geun. Chinese artist Ju Anqi was not able to make it for personal reasons.

“It’s a rare opportunity to see so many artists from two different countries come together for a single exhibition,” said Park Chul-hee, president of the AAMA, who hopes to bring an even wider range of artists to the exhibition next year. “We have invited artists from China and Korea that have made a name for themselves in the contemporary art world, each with a distinct style. We hope that this exhibition becomes an opportunity for the Korean art industry to expand into Asia and the world.”

Each artist is presenting one or two pieces of previously-made work at the exhibition, while artists Kim Dong-yoo, Koh and Yang created new pieces just in time for the event. Yang’s new sculpture will stand in front of the heritage center after the exhibition ends on Oct. 9. Prior to the opening ceremony, the participants enjoyed a party at artist Feng’s studio located on Jeju Island, where some artists’ works are also on display.

The Korea JoongAng Daily sat with the 10 artists who attended the party, with the exception of sculptor Yang, who flew in on Friday. The artists talked about contrasts in Korean and Chinese art, due to differences in the culture and the history of the two countries, and their excitement for having participated in an event that will help the connection between the two countries grow in the future.

Works by Chinese artists taking part in the “Korea & China Avant Garde Art” exhibition from top left: “A Self-portrait on a Toilet” (2001) by Zhou Chunya, “Chinese Portrait N Series 2008 No. 03” (2008) by Feng Zhengjie, “Love” (2018) by Wu Mingzhong, “Learn From You” (2013) by Wang Qingsong and “Grass Style No. 16089” (2016) by Ju Anqi. [ASIA ART MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATION]
Dynamic China, stable Korea

Korean culture is often described as dynamic for the rapid changes it went through during the later half of the 20th century. But according to the Chinese artists, Chinese culture is even more rapidly changing because the Cultural Revolution that took place from 1966 to 1976 kept them away from any form of creativity. For China, the idea of free expression only came about in the late 1970s and really began to take shape in the 1980s.

“Modern art in China began really late,” said Feng. “We’ve had a very closed-off atmosphere for many decades in the past, and modern art only began to bloom in the late 1970s. And so the changes that have taken place within the recent 30 to 40 years are very big. The psychological, emotional and social impacts hit people hard, the power of which is shown in many of these artists’ work.”

Artist Feng’s work “Chinese Portrait N Series No. 03” (2008), featured in the exhibit, is a close-up of a face that shows this impact on modern Chinese people. The painting’s eyes, instead of looking straight on at an object, are set apart, one looking in a different direction from the other as if they don’t know what to stare at. “The eyes represent the times. It’s a reflection of the state of mind that the Chinese people are in. Their eyes turn here and there because there’s so much to see, now that they’ve finally become free. But at the same time, it means they can’t focus on one thing, and their mind wanders endlessly,” said Feng.

Wang’s works similarly capture such realities, but with the lens rather than a brush. “I used to be a journalist, and so I try to keep a reporter’s mind when I’m taking a photograph. I try to show something that’s close to reality. The reason I became a photographer was because I felt like I could tell more than what I saw as a journalist.”

Nevertheless, these cultural differences do not set China and Korea apart, according to artist Wu. “I’ve had exhibitions together with Korean artists in the past, and I think there’s quite a lot of commonalities, such as the way we perceive Western culture. We share similar issues in our societies and a similar history.”

Based on such intriguing differences and similarities that provide common ground, Zhou hopes that artists from Asia will get to collaborate more in the future, expanding to other countries including Japan and Southeast Asia. “You feel a certain change take place in society, and for an artist, change tests them. I went through the big changes in history, and now I live in an era where I can paint the truth I see. The three countries, China, Korea and Japan, are intricately connected to each other through the philosophies that we share. I hope that this exhibition becomes an opportunity for us to share and become closer in the future.”

Works by Korean artists taking part in the “Korea & China Avant Garde Art” exhibition from top left: “Mao Zedong _ Marilyn Monroe” (2010) by Kim Dong-yoo, “Library-The Moment Doves Fly” (2016) by Hong Kyoung-tack, “Breathing is Moving” (2017) by Lee Gil-woo, “Moved Landscape” (2008) by Lim Taek, “Before Flower” (2018) by Kim Keun-joong and “Jacheongbi” (2018) by Koh Kwang-pyo. [ASIA ART MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATION]
“Site Keeper” (2018) by Yang Tae-geun will stay standing outside the Jeju World Natural Heritage Center after the exhibit ends in October. [ASIA ART MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATION]
To a wider audience

As opposed to the Chinese artists’ works, which were rooted deep in the social grounds they were born into, the Korean artists displayed more free-thinking experiments taking place beyond the social realm. All the works by the Korean artists contain different subjects of interest, some which have no meaning at all except for the pure purpose of art itself.

Kim Dong-yoo’s painting, for example, is a common form of a repeated mosaic of Mao Zedong, which he completed using the face of Marilyn Monroe like small tiles. Hong’s hyper-realistic painting, on the other hand, is just a peaceful scene that he saw his nephew in without any difficult or deep meaning beyond what is on the canvas. Kim Keun-joong’s latest work is an experiment into his deepest instincts as an artist in which he ignored all his knowledge about society or the conventional form and just focused on color.

“Where Chinese artists try to express something raw, things that are fundamental, Korean artists tend to tell stories of their own lives,” said Koh. “Chinese works reflect the spirit of the times, but Korean works are examples of personal opinions and philosophies that belong to just that individual.” As an architect, Koh made “Jacheongbi” as a proposal for Jeju Island to build a tourist monument that can be seen from kilometers away.

Although all the artists have already established themselves in the global art market, the Korean artists hope that this exhibition will work as a stepping stone for not only themselves, but for future artists to be able to set out into the bigger world. As talented as they may be, many Korean artists struggle to make a mark in the global market compared to artists from larger countries.

“We have good taste and skills, and the story that our works tell are also interesting. It’s just that we lack the backing for those works. For instance, a Chinese university has thousands of students in their college of art, but that’s unimaginable in Korea,” said Kim Keun-joong.

“Jeju Island has the potential to become the next cultural hub, like Hong Kong and Shanghai,” said Koh, who was born and raised in Jeju Island. “But since we don’t have the regional infrastructure, such as big museums or modern art museums, there’s nowhere to contain the audience that we have. The heritage center is a fresh start for us. I hope that, next year, there would be artists from not only Korea and China, but from other countries as well, like Japan and India.”

BY YOON SO-YEON [yoon.soyeon@joongang.co.kr]

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