[NOTEBOOK]Soothing contrasts amid chaos

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[NOTEBOOK]Soothing contrasts amid chaos

The garden was mysterious. On the television screens, which looked as if they had been tossed around randomly amid tropical plants with broad green leaves, images were blooming like flowers of all sorts and colors.

I used to spend afternoons hanging around the place in the summer of 2000. It felt like I was in the well-lighted garden of a rich man's home that I saw as a child, or a garden in a country on a planet deep in space.

I'm talking about "TV Garden," displayed as part of the "Worlds of Nam June Paik," an exhibition at the Ho-Am Gallery two years ago. The work of the video artist will be displayed in Korea forever. Gyeonggi province has announced that it will establish an art museum for his works in Yongin by 2004; the province has already purchased 58 of his works to be displayed there. There have been many calls for the establishment of a museum devoted to his work, and the Gyeonggi plans are the first response.

On a wall of the lounge in my office hangs a replica of "A Tree and Two Women," painted by Park Soo-keun (1914-1965). Against a granite-colored background is a naked tree, flanked by a departing woman with a bamboo basket on her head and another woman with a baby on her back, watching the other woman leave.

As I look at the picture, taking a deep puff of my cigarette and feeling as if time and space have stopped, a sense of waiting and nostalgia begins to invade my soul.

Park Soo-keun lived a poor and lonely life, but his works portray Koreans' sentiment so well that he is treated as the "most Korean" among our artists, and his paintings have been breaking records for auction prices at home and abroad. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism selected Mr. Park as the artist of the month for May 2002, and Gallery Hyundai is holding a memorial exhibition of his works from Wednesday through May 19.

At a time when our society and even nature are in chaos ?unusually warm weather, the storm of yellow sand from China, a plane crash, a complicated series of corruption scandals and political mudslinging before the presidential election in December ?thinking about these two artists refreshes me.

Although their works are both among the world's most highly priced, the lives and artistic worlds of the two artists are as different as day and night. Born to a poor family in the mountain province of Gangwon, Mr. Park could not afford a formal education and taught himself painting. The artistic theme of the poor and lonely painter was granite, which was turned into pagodas and Buddhist sculptures, and the ancient aesthetics of the murals of Goguryeo, an ancient kingdom on the peninsula.

By contrast, Mr. Paik was the son of a well-off businessman in Seoul and received a secondary education of the highest quality before moving to Japan in 1950 to study art at Tokyo University. The multimedia artist is now working in Germany and the United States along with the world's best avant-garde artists.

If Mr. Park was a rural Korean man who lived in the Stone Age, Mr. Paik is a cosmopolitan, living in an age of satellites. Perhaps that is why Mr. Park's paintings look more familiar to us, while those of the Korean-American artist feel strange and outlandish. To tell the truth, I could not hide such feelings when I watched a work of Mr. Paik's in which the body of a woman is played like a stringed instrument or the works that were broadcast live by satellite on the occasion of the Seoul Olympic Games in 1988.

In the past it was difficult to understand the artistic world of Mr. Paik, who used high-tech materials like television and lasers as art media even before average people had any grasp of what they were.

But one thing is clear: He set human beings, locked up in established systems and cultures, free to explore the whole universe.

On the extremes of stay and depart, protect and destroy, and liberal and conservative stand Park Soo-keun and Paik Nam June. Such extremes constitute human nature, and it is art that strikes a harmony between the extremes and keep human nature in peace.

Such characteristics of art make me think of these two men frequently in this time of chaos.


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

by Lee Kyeung-chul

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