Some works may be nude, but don't say they're dirty

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Some works may be nude, but don't say they're dirty

Usually, when you walk into a gallery, you wait for something interesting to catch your eye. But visit Shin Mee-kyung's sculpture exhibition at the Sungkok Art Gallery, and the interesting items catch your nose.

As you enter the downtown Seoul gallery, your olfactories are hit with the strong yet feminine fragrance of soap. Then you see Ms. Shin's work: full-size replicas of classic Greek and Roman sculptures, as well as a few modernist works, such as Rodin's "The Kiss," all crafted in soap, which the consumer products company Unilever provides to Ms. Shin gratis.

The exhibition has an unmistakably feminine atmosphere. Viewing the replicas is like being transported to the museum of the Parthenon, but after its airs have been bathed in delightful scents and its more masculine works have been removed. The artist titled her show "Translation" to describe how classic pieces can be viewed in a different context and a different light. "The sculptures are plucked from their original surroundings and reinterpreted in a new context, giving the new works a new meaning," she said.

But why use soap? "I wanted to re-create art in a form that was contradictory to the originals," she explained. "If marble and stone represent permanence, soap connotes ephemeralness."

Though an unorthodox medium, soap has impact. It makes you want to observe -- and smell -- the works first-hand instead of being satisfied with two-dimensional depictions in art history books.

Ms. Shin is a graduate of London's Slade School of Fine Art at University College, and did much of the soap sculpture while living in Britain's capital. The larger pieces took three to six months to make, and required the equivalent of about 1,300 bars of soap, she says. Actually, though, Unilever provided powdered soap, which she would mix into a paste to form blocks.

Ms. Shin often used the original sculptures as the models for her works; she spent several months at the British Museum and the Tate Gallery copying the masters.

For more information, call 02-737-7650 or visit

by Choi Jie-ho

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