[Outlook]An art lesson for the ages

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[Outlook]An art lesson for the ages

In front of the Posco building near the Seolleung subway station in Gangnam there is a huge steel sculpture that has many interesting stories behind its creation.
The artwork is called “Structure upon which a flower blossoms” or “Amabel” and it was made by the world-renowned experimental artist Frank Stella.
Posco paid Stella 1.7 billion won($1.8 million) for “Amabel,” expecting an art work that would go well with the post-modern image of the Posco center building.
However, “Amabel” has caused great controversy because its 30 tons of steel look like an airplane engine that exploded in midair. Many say it should be removed immediately, because it damages the image of the Posco building and its surroundings.
Citizens who pass by complain about it. Some experts have supported the removal of the work, saying that it is important to respect the public’s opinion, since the structure is for them as much as for Posco.
On the other hand, there have been experts who strongly oppose the removal of Amabel. Some have staged demonstrations because they respect the artwork’s symbolic meaning and artistic value. Posco, upset by the controversy, considered donating the piece to the National Museum of Contemporary Art, but the artist vigorously opposed this idea.
Posco came up with a compromise to solve its dilemma. They have now planted pine trees around the sculpture, to conceal it from the eyes of pedestrians.
A few days ago I happened to pass the Posco building and I found that the steel structure was only partly visible.
Near the ramp that leads to the Cheonggye stream, there is a large sculpture called “Spring,” which is 20 meters in height. It was made by Claes Oldenburg, who was paid 1.3 billion won for his work.
This artwork, similar to a Christmas tree decorated like a colorful cruller, does not cause public revulsion, unlike Stella’s “Amabel.” This is because the work consists of an image that is easy on the eye and it was made of materials that people find pleasing.
Pop art, which was born in the United States and England during the 1960s, arrived in Korea in the 1990s.
Recently, exhibitions of pieces from this era have become commonplace. Andy Warhol, the icon of Pop art, who used the silkscreen method to transform images of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe into artworks, has become very popular in Korea.
In February 2007, “The missing Nancy Lang,” a promotion for a home appliance company, featured, the conceptual artist Nancy Lang , the diva of Korean pop art, and became the number one item searched for on the Internet.
“Amabel” and “Spring” represent the mainstream of modern art. “Amabel” is shocking and perplexing to see and seems far removed from any familiar concept of beauty. Because we are used to appreciating the Seokguram Buddha or the Pieta by Michelangelo, Amabel seems like nothing more than a pile of garbage.
However, the structure may signify the end of modern civilization and a newfound hope that emerges from the ruins. Because something is inexplicable does not mean it has no value.
“Spring” is a lot easier to appreciate. By using everyday materials, it breaks down the barrier between art and non-art.
Pop art is criticized because it takes advantage of capitalism, its artists earning huge sums, while trying to hide behind an impenetrable veil of obscurity. But we can say that it breaks down barriers between art and the ordinary, and makes us think about our environment.
Modern art challenges the standard framework of thought, even if it is difficult to understand. It tries to expand our horizons by breaking free of the classical belief that the pursuit of beauty and art are the same thing. And it makes us re-examine classic artworks in a critical way. Modern art is an experiment in imagination and a realization of freedom. And without freedom, our lives cannot be mature or abundant.
Paris and New York were regarded as the world’s capital cities in the 19th century and 20th centuries respectively, and their artworks blossomed along with their wealth. Paris and New York are still symbols of free spirits today.
“The more, the better,” a video tower by the video artist late Paik Nam-jun, is ready to be unveiled at the National Museum of Contemporary Art. The artist is the only Korean listed in the dictionary of world modern art. In the National Museum of Korea in Yongsan, the Meditating Buddha is wearing an eternal smile. It is true that “One can appreciate as much as one knows,” but one shows more wisdom when one says, “The more experience one has appreciating artistic works, the better one knows.”

*The writer is a professor of philosophy at Hanshin University. Translation by The JoongAng Daily staff.

by Yoon Pyung-joong
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