Prize-winning art, but no artist?

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Prize-winning art, but no artist?

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Nobody could accuse the Korean artist Koo Jung-a of being ostentatious: she submitted a press release photo that did not include her, and her piece was hidden in a dark room behind a wall.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that when she won the 2005 Hermes Korea Missulsang, a private award for art, she was nowhere to be seen.
The award was given last Friday in a ceremony at Art Sonje Center, northern Seoul, and was announced shortly after the press and public viewing of works by the three nominees: Ms. Koo, Nikki Lee and Kim So-ra.
The Missulsang, co-organized by Hermes Korea and Art Sonje Center, is now in its sixth year; past winners include Kim Beom, Chang Young-hae and Suh Do-ho, who are considered both here and abroad to be the emerging forces in Korean contemporary art.
Each year, the winner is selected by a judging committee comprising both Koreans and foreigners. The committee this year featured Kim Young-soon, the art director of Seoul Arts Center; Lee Young-joon, a professor of Kaywon University; Lim Hee-joo, the vice-chairman of the Membership Society of the National Museum of Contemporary Art; Franck Gauterot, the co-director of Le Consortium in Dijon, and Kwok Kian Chow, the director of the Singapore Museum.
At the informal award ceremony, Christian Blanckaert, executive vice president of Hermes International, said he was pleased to announce that three Korean women were selected by the committee. But when the announced winner was a no-show, Mr. Blanckaert joked, “The Paris-based artist learned a bad habit: being late,” encouraged the stunned crowd to enjoy the celebration ― and the buffet of fusion dishes and Lanson champagne ―and posed for photographs. Ms. Koo, 38, will receive a cash prize of 20 million won ($19,210), for the installation work titled “...!”
Prior to the Hermes exhibition, Ms. Koo’s highly conceptual artwork was shown at the Venice Biennale in 2003 and the Moscow Biennale earlier this year. Most of her works, with only adjectives for titles (“quiet,” “intimate,” and “[almost] imperceptible,” for example), fit the context of their display venue. Using powdered aspirin to create a tiny topography of mountains or sugar cubes stacked to form miniature houses, for example, the artist aims to make “site-specific” projects, unique to their environment, that can establish an engaging and intimate dialogue with its viewers.
The winning work, “...!,” takes up the least visible space on the second floor of Art Sonje Center. It is so serene, dark and passive, especially next to the artist Kim So-ra’s project, which is aimed at turning visitors into active participants, that the exhibition was virtually overlooked until the award was announced for the missing artist. Ms. Koo’s installation work consists of a small pen sketch on the wall, stacks of sugar cubes and a flatscreen monitor showing waterdrops.
“The materials ― a sketch, sugar and water drops ― are seemingly completely irrelevant to one another, but they allow viewers to think and connect ideas,” commented Mr. Kwok, of the Singapore Museum. “The work shuns form and explanation but tells a unique story.”
When asked if the connection made between modern Korean art and the French-owned luxury brand based here would make any profit, Jun Yung-sun, the managing director of Hermes Korea, said, “The brand has been around 175 years, and for us to be around for the next 100 or 200 years, we must invest in various [corporate patronage projects] for the long term.”


by Ines Cho

The exhibition of the works by the three nominees for the 2005 Hermes Korea Missulsang runs through Dec. 11. Art Sonje Center is located on 144-2 Sogyeok-dong, Jongno-gu in northern Seoul and is open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. except Mondays. For more information, call (02) 733-8945 or visit www.artsonje.org.
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