Gallery Bucks Art Show Trend by Offering Idealized View of Past

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Gallery Bucks Art Show Trend by Offering Idealized View of Past

An exhibition that bucks the trend in art shows by evoking images of the past rather than challenging its audience is currently being held at the Gallery Savina in Insa-dong, central Seoul. The gallery is better known for featuring contemporary works of art. The exhibition is titled "Nostalgia" and presents works by 16 local artists, chosen on the basis of a recent survey of gallery visitors.

Beginning last September, 1,000 visitors were asked to complete a questionnaire in which they were asked the kinds of art shows they wanted to see or art subjects that interested them. Almost half of the respondents listed subjects such as home, the sea, love and motherhood in their answers; overall they indicated that they wanted to visit exhibitions that provoke a sense of nostalgia and longing for the past.

The exhibition uses the poem "Hyangsoo" ("Nostalgia"), by Jung Ji-young, as its central motif. This poem is familiar to Koreans and is full of imagery inspired by the countryside where the poet spent his childhood. It evokes such images as such as slate-roofed houses, an elderly father, a creek, rolling fields of wheat and a yellow ox. The exhibition, in turn, represents these images by presenting artworks that match the concepts within the poem. For example, the creek in the poem is represented by a painting by Kim Sung-ho, which depicts a view of a lake.

"It's worth noting that 51 percent of the participants in the survey were in their 20s," said show curator, Kim Mi-young. She points that even the younger generation of visitors, who were city born and raised, seem to yearn for an ideal bucolic past, a simpler and more innocent way of life that they imagine the countryside to present. Miss Kim said perhaps, too, the survey shows that the notion of home is more instinctual, having no bearing on a person's geographical location.

Though visually quite plain, what make these artworks particularly interesting is how they contribute to the debate about the social position of contemporary visual art and its perception by the person in the street. The soft-toned pastel paintings like that of the girl holding a flower may not trigger the interest of every fussy curator in town and most of the pieces in the show are the kinds of art that would not be out of place on the rest room walls of a sleazy Western-style restaurant in Jongno. Nonetheless, the show is appealing because the presentation of these works is something that your average person would want to see. That is, someone who is not an art aficionado; more a typical passer-by in Insa-dong.

Ms. Kim writes in the catalog's preface that in the history of modern art, Marcel Duchamp's notion of anti-art has driven a wedge between artists and the public. Ms. Kim argues that contemporary artists depend too much on sensationalism and fail to provide the subtle inspiration that the viewing public craves. To some extent, it is true that the notion of anti-art, which began as an attempt to reject the commodification of art and develop more open communication with the public, developed into a pursuit of the esoteric.

The curatorial intent of the show, however, misses a point. The role of an artist has always been to question the pre-existing notions of art and develop a new sense of aesthetics, rather than pander to popular taste. Communication failed in contemporary art as a result of the indifference of progress-driven societies toward contemplation and the passivity of traditional forms of art. Besides, communication or "getting the point" is not entirely the purpose of art either. Rather, it is the debate that works of art engender that is the goal that many contemporary artists strive for.

In that sense, "Nostalgia" is a viewer-friendly yet an artist-hostile exhibition.

by Park Soo-mee

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