A gallery guides artists from poor to public

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A gallery guides artists from poor to public

The exhibition “Clash and Network,” currently showing at Gallery Loop in Hongdae, northwest Seoul, does more than present questions about equality, technology and the mass media: It shows how far the concept of an “alternative space” has gone in the contemporary Korean art scene.
Gallery Loop was Korea’s first alternative space, a place where poor or unknown artists could exhibit their work without dealing with agents or show fees.
The gallery has made remarkable strides since it first opened seven years ago. “Clash and Network,” which opened on March 17, has so far attracted leading directors of Asian alternative spaces, gallery owners, professors, media specialists and artists who started out at Loop. The show’s institutional allies are also hardly humble, including both the Asian Young Network Art Forum and Yonsei University Media Institution.

Twenty-two video works by as many artists from six nations ― Japan, China, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia and Korea ― fill up the three spacious halls of the gallery’s new building, whose gorgeously illuminating facade stands in the cluttered neighborhood frequented by students and clubbers.
Gallery Loop moved into the building, designed by the architect Kim Baek-sun, in November, 2005.
“It’s been quite a fast process,” said Suh Jin-suk, the director of Loop, sitting down at a stylish cafe on the second floor of the gallery. “For the past eight years, the Korean art world has changed a lot. Back then, everyone [in the art scene] was just like family. At the opening parties for alternative spaces like ours, there would be nobody, just the artist and maybe three or four crazy people in an empty space.”
When Mr. Suh opened Loop in the basement of an office building less than a block away from its current new location, Korea had only commercial galleries that rented space to artists. There were grand spaces run by the Korean government or corporations, but only a renowned artist would be welcomed. Poor and unknown artists had nowhere to show their work, much less their potential.
Mr. Suh and three of his friends, all graduates of the Art Institute of Chicago, put their dream into action and opened Gallery Loop in February 1999. The three friends soon dropped out as the gallery quickly ran out of funds. Mr. Suh stuck with it, though, and in 2000 the government began offering 20 million won ($20,000) in funding to alternative spaces, effectively rescuing Loop.

The government program was phenomenally successful. These days, there are as many as 16 alternative spaces in the Hongdae area alone. The Kkot Gallery, for instance, handles traditional Korean arts. Espace Davinci, also located in Hongdae, features a large archive of books. Style Cube Jan Dara specializes in fashion and design.
The concept of alternative spaces has been so well-received that even big players such as Gallery Hyundai and Gallery Kukje have begun to hold non-profit exhibitions for start-up artists as well.
“Historically, we came along when we were needed in society. Now the Korean art world has diversified, and there are enough spaces for all kinds of art and artists. Now we have to come up with new roles for alternative spaces,” Mr. Suh said.
In 2005, alternative spaces in Hongdae started a collaborative group called the Korean Alternative Space Network. The network organizes multi-gallery exhibitions, such as the annual festival “Pick and Pick,” organized by Ssamzie Space.
Loop is also making an effort to form international networks, the biggest of which so far has been the Asian Art Forum. The forum, scheduled to kick off next year, will host seminars and facilitate exchange programs for artists among member countries. “The forum, we hope, will support Asian art and artists in a world dominated by the Western art industry, by presenting an Asian point of view through art,” Mr. Suh said.
He said he believes the future of alternative spaces is a bright one. “Average Koreans have started to sponsor contemporary arts, and we’ve started big projects in conjunction with big universities, which have a lot of funds but lack experience and time. We’re trying to create a market for Korean contemporary art. At this new location, we can nurture young collectors, enjoy parties and better understand art.”

by Jin Hyun-ju

“Clash and Network” runs through April 22. Gallery Loop is open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Admission is free. The nearest subway station is Hongdik University on line No. 2, exit 6. From the exit, walk straight about 700 meters (765 yards). For more information, call (02) 3141-1377 or visit www.galleryloop.com.
Kkot Gallery can be contacted at (02) 6414-8840. Espace Davinci can be contacted at (02) 6409-1704. Style Cube Jan Dara can be contacted at (02) 323-4155.
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