Shinful artifice

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Shinful artifice


A young lady has shocked the entire nation. Shin Jeong-ah, fired from Dongguk University on July 20 for falsifying her doctoral degree, is the source of seismic tremors that have hit the art world in which she worked and members of the public. She has exposed an embarrassing side of our society where the name of a prestigious school, a title or a connection to a powerful man are a universal pass. This allowed Shin to climb the social ladder via respected art galleries and a university professorship to become the director of the Gwangju Biennale, an important international art festival.
Opinions differ on what is meant by qualifications, particularly if we take the example of Lee Ji-young, a popular English teacher with a KBS radio program who had to resign because she falsified her resume. Fake degrees are unacceptable, but her performance at private academies and on broadcasting programs shows that she has the capacity to work on TV or radio and to teach.
Reports have it that Shin made up lies about large parts of her life as well as her degrees. People in the art world agree that the extent of her lies about her family and private life reached the degree of ‘life laundering.’ Some refer to mythomania, a pathological condition of the mind that involves addictive and compulsive lying. A mythomaniac lives in a fantasy world, believing her lies to be true and claims to be innocent even when everything she said turns out to be a lie.
Arguments that the art world should institute reforms so as not to tolerate fakes have gained momentum as well. There are quite a few big shots and celebrities in the art world who have survived suspicions about fake degrees, fake careers and plagiarism without a thorough investigation.
Paik Nam-june, although himself a creator of video art, has often asserted modern art is a fake. As numerous artworks are produced in the name of avant-garde experiments, it becomes difficult to tell what is fake and what is original. According to the art critic Lee Young-chul, all art is fake in that the value of an artwork is determined by a collaboration between various art institutions and markets, and we live in an age where fake has becomes coterminous with art.
Shin had a rapid descent from being the Cinderella of the art world to the villain of a forgery. In some ways the traces of her life appear to be like a lifetime performance that reminds us of the lies and fictional characters of modern art. Cho Young-nam, a singer and a painter, said modern art is a play without a form and that Shin is a heroine of a phenomenal scandal that memorializes the spirit of modern art.

*The writer is a deputy culture and sports editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Yang Sung-hee []
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