Searching for ‘Koreanness’ in modern art
That definition is evident in the title of the exhibition “Simply Beautiful ― Breath of Nature in Korean Contemporary Art,” currently on display at Total Museum in Pyeongchang-dong, northern Seoul. The dominant aesthetic is one that weaves unique cultural traits with a contemplative and meditative view of nature.
The exhibition was organized from the start to tour abroad, and this year will head to Europe to be shown at the Centre Pasqu’ Art in Switzerland and Le Grand Jardin Joinville in France before returning to Korea.
The 26 works by 10 artists in the exhibit may be united by a general “Koreanness,” but that focus appears to have made the works more innovative instead of limiting them. The theme, after all, is a vague one, and the artists tackle it in different ways, using natural shapes, materials and textures.
The idea is that Korean art can maintain its distinct “Koreanness” while also being universal and international. Can Korea have its rice cake and eat it, too?
The answer can be found in the works of Cheong Kwang-ho, who uses copper wires to link leaves and flowers in intricate structures. Cheong said he doesn't see his works as being particularly Korean, and that he is more interested in breaking boundaries and connecting emotionally ― or at least visually ― with viewers.
His work, “The Leaf,” for example, is a wall-sized leaf made out of crocheted thin copper wires. “I wanted the work to look like it was half a sculpture and half a painting,” he said. “In a sense, I wanted to create a sculpture that resembled the ramie fabric used in traditional Korean clothes.”
Other works, such as Yi Gee-chil’s rock installation, titled “Work V-II,” attempt to present a Korean sensibility toward nature while having a universal appeal. Yi's work is nothing but a hollowed-out rock sitting on top of a mound of sand. Minimalist? Sure, but also contemporary. Whether its appeal is universal is another question.
The exhibition is the result of two years of planning. The organizer is Koh Won-seok, also a director at Laurance Geoffrey's Ltd. Koh said the exhibition introduces current art themes in Korea without “l osing a sense of the world.”
The international element is hard to miss: The exhibition was sponsored by the Swiss Embassy in Korea. The Swiss are hoping that the show makes it easier for Swiss art to be shown in Korea as well.
“This exhibition will generate a give-and-take relationship,” said Roland Viotti, the counselor of culture and commerce at the embassy.
by Cho Jae-eun
The 10 artists featured in “Simply Beautiful ― Breath of Nature in Korean Contemporary Art” are: Bae Bien-u, Cheong kwang-ho, Choi In-sub, Kim Hong-ju, Kim Jong-gu, Kim Taek-Sang, Lee Jae-hyo, Moon Beom, Toh Yun-hee and Yi Gee-chil. ?The exhibition runs through April 9. Admission is free. ?Total museum is located near Gyeongbokgung Station, line No. 3, exit 3, and is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.