[VIEWPOINT]Korea’s role in the art world

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[VIEWPOINT]Korea’s role in the art world

“An artist who cannot speak English is no artist.” This rather nonsensical phrase was taken from a painting by artist Mladen Stilinovich that is exhibited in an international art exhibition “A New Past” to be held at the Marronnier Art Center until Feb. 3.
This work of art was originally a phrase in conceptual art form that was displayed on the wall, but I saw it on the front of souvenir T-shirts that were on sale. Because this phrase was printed in white on black fabric, it felt definitive, like an obituary or a statement.
This phrase contains the meaning that if an artist does not speak English, he or she cannot become an international artist, and that if an artist is not an international artist, he or she does not deserve to be called an artist.
This expresses in a nutshell the situation of artists from the peripheries of the international art world such as the Korean Peninsula and the Balkan Peninsula. I think I was not the only one who heartily agreed with this “artwork” the minute I saw it on the souvenir table near the entrance to the gallery.
Those who know what conceptual art is would recognize at once that this is a classic example of conceptual art. Conceptual art, in layman’s terms, is a sort of self-reflective job analyzing and reviewing existing concepts that we hold about art. It is art that tries to stimulate new reflections from the viewer by redefining or presenting such concepts as the following in simple phrases or terms: “art,” “art history,” “artworks,” “art theory,” “artist,” “exhibition,” “art museum,” “art critic” and “art education.” Of course, sometimes conceptual art takes on other forms such as objects, videos, performances or installments, and sometimes it is shown in a rather lengthy context.
Because the art world cannot revolve around its own logic that is separate from that of the outside world, many conceptual art pieces show a wide scope of interest in political and social issues. This is logical.
This exhibition organized by artist Park Chan-kyeong and curator Paek Ji-suk is one such example. Most of the works exhibited are not purely aesthetic pieces but reflections of diverse thoughts and concepts on the relationship between art and politics, art and economy, art and revolution or art as part of everyday life.
This exhibition includes pieces from various artists from Balkan countries such as Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro and Kosovo, as well as Korean artists. The exhibition gives much food for thought because the pieces show the suffering, agony and mental confusion of the artists who must exist in a reality given under today’s oppressive international political structure and dynamics.
We need to compare the works of Korean and Balkan artists because they have similar histories burdened with political fractures, bloody wars, poverty, oppression and exploitation that continued for generations.
I believe that this slogan-like short phrase compresses and expresses the complex feelings of the many artists working in peripheral countries or regions who want to one day gain recognition in a global art world centered in New York. Taking this phrase as a starting point, it is time we think about the present situation of the Korean art world ruled by the phantom-like concept of “an international art world.”

* The writer is a professor of film theory at the Korean National University of Arts. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Choi Min
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