Khan’s army has never looked less intimidatingThere was time in the history of fine art when the works of European artists were much praised for depicting the wild, exotic sensibility of the Orient.
Delacroix and several other French painters from his romanticist cliques visited Morocco and explored their artistic fascination with the “mystical” qualities of the Middle East.
Gauguin produced a series of paintings of Japan and Cambodia based on the popular examples of “Oriental art” he had seen in museum collections in Paris.
Today, representing the beauty of another’s culture is viewed with some suspicion. This would seem to be especially true when the image depicts a particular ethnicity as a horde of barbarians on horse carts.
The impact of the work would depend on who the barbarians are, of course. In this case, Anthony Caro, the modern British sculptor who is in Seoul for his first solo exhibition at the Seoul Museum of Art, is referring to Mongols from the time of Genghis Khan.
There are no references to European knights in this show, but Caro’s barbarians suggest a sense of longing and curiosity for primitive culture on the part of Western civilization.
These sculptures by Caro, who is better known for abstract than figurative works, were inspired by a group of vaulting horses that the artist found outside a junk shop in King’s Cross in London.
The installation features horsemen made out of clay, holding primitive weapons such as spears, bows and whips.
Each work, consisting of a warrior on a cart, has a title such as “Kharjaar,” “Jiloo” or “Saardag” ― the names of invaders who were buried with Genghis Khan.
Archaic forms of stoneware and wood, which seem to refer to ancient Minoan artifacts, are installed side by side with the warriors, bearing titles like “Secret of Stair” and “Edmonton Arch.”
Together, these comprise what the artist calls “The Barbarians,” the title of the exhibition.
In some ways, though, the show is a pure mockery of the “barbarian conquest” and the whole idea of civilization itself.
Despite the sense of urgency suggested by the presence of these barbarians, what makes Caro’s works so pleasant, even in a modern context, is the playful ― even toy-like ― qualities of these warriors, so awkwardly placed around the gallery’s white space.
Made up of detachable heads and bodies that are roughly connected with pieces of steel and wood, these barbarians are far from heroic or threatening. They are a horde of stick figures, more humorous than anything else.
by Park Soo-mee
Anthony Caro’s “The Barbarians” runs through Feb. 29. Seoul Museum of Art is located near Deoksu Palace in central Seoul; take subway line No. 2 to the City Hall station and take exit 12. For more information, call the museum at (02) 2124-8971.