[FOUNTAIN]Society and art drift apart

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[FOUNTAIN]Society and art drift apart

Artistic reputation and public understanding often do not go together, and a pioneer of video art, Paik Nam-june, is a representative case. People are baffled at why he is called an artist, because he looks like just a weirdo. In his performances, Mr. Paik hacks away at pianos, and he claims that art is a fraud. Here is an explanation: For solemn Koreans, who respect art as a sublime form of human expression, the Fluxus spirit is hard to digest.

Fluxus is the key to Mr. Paik's art, and must be understood to understand his work. In a nutshell, Fluxus is a rebellion against fossilized high art. That is why the 1960s Fluxus movement, which Mr. Paik led with his mentor John Cage, is so cheerful, exhilarating and thrilling in its expressions, and sometimes candid to the point of being childish.

No wonder Western society, tired of modernism, felt a sense of freedom through the work of Fluxus brats.

Mr. Paik said that the weakest point of modern art in Korea is a lack of information - in other words, art illiteracy. An exhibition of modern art can be "fun play" and carry a social meaning, he said.

At the Artsonje Center, located in Sagan-dong, Seoul, a newly emerging mecca of art in Korea, there is an exhibition by the photographer Hwang Kyu-tae. The exhibition is a release from suffocating society, a different dimension. Mr. Hwang's work is not conventional photos that were "taken"; they were "made." Mr. Hwang wants to talk with exaggerated images. That is the diction of modern photography, and the exhibition's atmosphere is much like that of the Fluxus movement. In fact, Mr. Hwang's works are tricks that exaggerate the camera's lies.

For example, Mr. Hwang blew up the pixels on a television monitor, making the print appear to be a painting on canvas. Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), who exhibited a urinal taken off a restroom wall, would have applauded the show. Another attraction is a combination of several hundred black-and-white photos. His mischief and John Cage's music carry you to an experience of combinatorial art.

The problem is that artistic experiments like Mr. Hwang's are largely unknown to the general public. Art and society are drawing apart from each other. Because of this, Korean society is structurally suffocating. It sometimes scares me. I am worried that people may criticize Mr. Hwang's works for lack of sublimity, not knowing the gurus of modern photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank or Cindy Sherman.

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

by Cho Woo-suk

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