[FOUNTAIN]The legacy of two artists is ignoredThis year, the art world celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of Salvador Dali, the Spanish surrealist. Spain is highlighting his cultural and artistic legacy by designating 2004 as Dali’s year and hosting various events.
There are Korean master artists whose centennials deserve celebration. Park Saeng-kwang and Lee Ung-no were both born in 1904. They certainly did not have the kind of fame Dali enjoyed, but they are nonetheless two of the most important figures in the history of modern art in Korea. Koreans, however, have been stingy about celebrating their legacies. Aside from a few exhibitions held at private museums and galleries, there has not been a public-level effort to commemorate the two artists.
Park and Lee were outsiders in the Korean art community. Park was branded a follower of Japanese style and drifted around the country. Right before his death, his artistic legacy was saved as he discovered the traditional colors of Korea and explored a new style. Today, Park is acknowledged to have completely escaped from the shadow of the colonial era style in his last days and opened a new ground for colored paintings and history paintings of Korea.
Lee was imprisoned for his involvement in the so-called “East Berlin incident” in 1967 and could never shake off the yoke of the National Security Law. He contended that he was neither a rightist nor a leftist, but was willing to do anything for the unification of the peninsula because unification was the only way for Koreans to survive. He insisted that art was his way of searching for the root of matters, and ideology was nothing but a restriction created by humans. But when he died in Paris in 1989, the government did not even send floral tributes.
Park and Lee were artists who truly explored traditional Korean painting. However, the Japanese colonization and division of the peninsula did not even allow them to express their art freely.
Lee’s survivors opened ungnoLee Museum in Pyeongchang-dong, Seoul, and displayed works of the artist brought from Paris. But the museum is considering leaving Seoul after experiencing indifference and cold treatment. The family wishes to bring the art back to Paris, which truly appreciated Lee’s work.
It leaves me with a bitter feeling to know that we are not celebrating the year of Park and Lee.
by Chung Jae-suk
The writer is a deputy culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.