Creating a fusion of art and fashionAmid the recent controversies between the two countries, Korea’s long connection to Japan is reflected in “Vision of the Body 2005,” an exhibition opening today at the Seoul Museum of Art in downtown Seoul.
When the museum announced at a press conference last week that its new exhibition would be fashion-oriented, a subject considered non-mainstream in the Korean art scene, and that it had primarily collaborated with leading Japanese cultural figures representing the Kyoto Costume Institute and the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, the local press expressed concern about the museum’s direction.
In response, the museum’s director, Ha Chong-hyun, explained that the exhibition was a comprehensive form of art, reflecting the current interest in fashion among Koreans and helping to support the development of the Korean fashion industry into a global force.
For Korea’s fashion-loving population, the exhibit, which offers a rare opportunity to view historically innovative designs, has been long overdue.
“Visions of the Body 2005” is a specially updated version of the exhibition held in Tokyo and Kyoto in 1999, which was organized by the two Japanese institutions. The Korea exhibition features more than 120 works of fashion and modern art, including around 90 items from the costume institute and 25 pieces of art by 13 artists loaned by the national museum.
Since its founding in 1978, the Kyoto Costume Institute has amassed 11,000 important fashion pieces, dating from the 1700s to the present.
Akiko Fukai, the director of the institute, said that its collection consisted mostly of works by French and Japanese designers, but included items by designers from other countries as well. The institute often lends collectors’ items to major exhibitions around the world.
When asked if the institute owned any works by Korean designers, she replied that it did not, but that it was “interested in looking into works by young Korean designers.”
As its title suggests, however, the exhibition goes beyond fashion by approaching the topic from a cultural angle, Ms. Fukai said.
“The exhibition categorizes fashion as art, and it chronicles the history of fashion in the context of the human body,” she explained. “Fashion often challenged forms... and historically, clothing, in place of skin, expressed the wearer’s ideas. Most modern designers implement such personal ideas through clothing.”
As a kind of prologue, the entrance to the exhibit showcases the evolution of desirable female body shapes from the curvaceous, corset-clad bodice of the 17th century to the slim body form favored by contemporary women.
Inspired by the typical fashion show format where models move on a long, narrow runway, the two curators, Ms. Fukai and Shinji Kohmoto, the senior curator of the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, turned the spacious museum into a giant runway.
Upon entering the main hall, visitors can walk along the central corridor, like models, and view art works in various media on both sides. The creations of legendary fashion designers, including Christian Dior, Paco Rabanne, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Tom Ford, Martin Margiela, Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto, among many others, are displayed on rows of mannequins. But photographs, sculptures, paintings, video installations and multimedia works placed among the articles of clothing connect the exhibition’s common theme: the human body.
According to Mr. Kohmoto, the exhibition, consisting of two separate entities, art and fashion, provides another entity or “platform” where the two can have a “dialogue” and “influence” each other.
He said he was particularly fascinated by the fusion of fashion and technology in a recent fashion show by Dutch designers Victor & Rolfe. In the show, models walked in oufits made from a “chromatic blue” fabric upon which moving images were projected. As the models moved, the color and pattern on each outfit changed continuously. “The designers shocked the industry by making the two keywords in fashion, pattern and color, obsolete,” he said. A video of that show is being presented in the Seoul exhibit.
While updating the exhibition, Mr. Kohmoto looked for similarly breakthrough “wearable technology” in Korea, but failed.
While no creations of Korean fashion designers are displayed, three multimedia artworks on the subject of body mutation, by Korean artists Lee Bul, Chea Gu and Lee Hyeong-gu, were added to the exhibition.
What makes “Visions of the Body 2005” conceptually comprehensive and contemporary is the metaphysical approach taken by Mr. Kohmoto, who early in his career had shocked Japan’s art industry by introducing Italy’s progressive designs.
In order to pursue his keen interest in museology, which defines the direction and meaning of museums today and in the future, Mr. Kohmoto collaborated with Choi Wook, a Korean partner of the Japanese architect Hiroshi Innami. The Korean architect worked on creating a so-called “public space” which offers messages and infinite possibilities to the audience.
Immersed in contemporary Japanese interpretation of fashion and art, visitors to the exhibition can contemplate the museum’s functions and connections to its past, present and future.
To make the event lively and even trendy, Mr. Ha commissioned Sway Productions, which specializes in events for fashion industry professionals, to stage a party starting at 6:30 p.m. today. The party, which is open to the public, features a live band, fusion tapas and sparkling wine.
by Ines Cho
The exhibition “Visions of Body 2005” runs until the end of July. The Seoul Museum of Art is located between the Deoksu Palace entrance and Jungdong Theater. The museum is open from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Tuesday through Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends. Admission is 700 won (70 cents) for adults, 300 won for children. The nearest subway station is line 1 City Hall station, exit no. 11 or 12. For more information, visit the Web site, www.seoulmoa.org.