[FOUNTAIN]Can Pornography Be Art?

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[FOUNTAIN]Can Pornography Be Art?

A controversial pornographic art exhibition ran for only three days before the artist closed it. The exhibition, which opened at Gallery Boda in Seoul last Wednesday, was called "High School Girls Pornography 2" and depicted high school girls exposing their genitals. It attracted some 400 spectators, adults only, in that short time, but the artist Choi Kyung-tae, 44, shut it down on Saturday. "I hated that the spectators saw my works only as pornography, ignoring the critical message about our society embodied in them," said Mr. Choi on Sunday. "I felt it was meaningless to continue to show my works." The 30 or so oil paintings of the high school girls removing their underwear and exposing themselves to the viewer forced the spectator into a position of voyeur. The painter formerly pursued "populist art," which flourished in Korea in the early 1980s under the military dictatorship and tried to embed social resistance in more "popular" forms of arts. But, since an exhibition held last year, the artist turned to pornography.

"I tried to satirize myself and others who live in a society where prostitution by high schoolers is prevalent, where we feel sexual curiosity and excitement at these girls' naked bodies," said Mr. Choi. "Our society is a cheap pornographic one. My pictures are the expression of the desperation that comes from living in an era when human life has lost so much value." In fact, the teenage girls in his pictures wear sad, expressionless faces, contradicting their lewd poses. "This is because they are doing it for money even though they don't want to," explained the painter. "I want to paint a world where people live like humans, a world of hope."

The whole business reminded me of a painting called "The Origin of the World" (1866) by French realist artist Gustave Courbet (1817-1877). Courbet painted close-up female genitals trembling from sexual pleasure. The painting is considered one of the most shocking nudes in the history of Western art. A wealthy Turkish ambassador to France ordered a picture that could "evoke strong and sensual feelings he could enjoy secretly." The painting is only 55 centimeters by 46 centimeters, but is estimated to be worth some 5 billion won ($3.8 million). Displayed in the Musee d'Orsay, Paris, since 1995, the painting has been one of the museum's most popular works.

While Mr. Choi's works as art hover somewhere between hypocrisy and something better, their motive is always in doubt. Courbet's work is something beyond this. It succeeds in transcending the narrow boundaries of evil and virtue into a true art form.

The writer is deputy culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Cho Hyun-wook

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