Art Community Agitated by Forged North Korean Works

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Art Community Agitated by Forged North Korean Works

The issue of forged North Korean art brought into South Korea is again the focus of attention in art circles. North Korea's renowned 'people's artist' Jong Chang-mo, consequently, has indefinitely postponed his Seoul exhibition. Jong recently visited Seoul as a separated family member. His exhibition in Seoul has been delayed because of conflicts concerning the authenticity of his art.

Jong raised questions on August 15 after reviewing the catalog of his exhibition, to be held at Seoul Kyongin Museum of Fine Art August 16 to 22. "Some of the pieces included in the catalog are not my work." The exhibition was then postponed indefinitely.

"I believe that South Korea prepared this exhibition with good intentions, but because there are so many imitations, I had to cancel the exhibition," said Jong to his younger sisters in South Korea on August 17. "It is my understanding that a Chinese art dealer and Yanbian prosecutor's office employee, only identified as Uhm, deceitfully provided the art pieces, claiming that he obtained them through Mansudae Art Studio in North Korea."

Jong commented, incidentally, that "the best scenery in Seoul is definitely the Han River. Because I usually paint emotional and sentimental pieces, I would like to draw a Han River sunset scene."

This is not the first time that a controversy has arisen regarding the authenticity of North Korean art work. At the third Kwangju Biennale, held last spring, the special exhibition entitled "Yesterday and Today of North Korean Art," provoked many accusations of fraudulent works.

Hundreds of thousands of pieces of North Korean art are now in South Korea, having arrived through various channels.

Jong's sister Chun-hee, recently reunited with her older brother, has collected numerous pieces of his work. Unbo Kim Ki-chang, one of South Korea's master painters, has been collecting work by his North Korean younger brother, Ki-man. They are never certain whether the art they obtain is genuine. Not only does South Korea lack an artistic organization capable of providing verification, but North Korea has no such body either.

North Korea has reportedly cranked out innumerable replicas at Mansudae Art Studio, in order to achieve their goal of obtaining hard currency. Counting forged pieces in other countries as well as those in China, the number of replicas likely outdistance all practical estimations.

The public has demanded the establishment of a special institution to systematically study North Korean art and be able to verify authenticity.

"Pyongyang is greatly involved in reproductions," complained fine art critic Yun Bom-mo, who visited North Korea in 1998. "Mansudae Art Studio mass produces replicas to realize big profits. Replicas made by Mansudae at least come with certificates. Others don't even specify where they come from, so buyers need to be very cautious."

by Cho Hyon-wook

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