Korean art not just about simple beauty

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Korean art not just about simple beauty


The art displayed in the area between Gallery 1 and 2 at the “Korean Beauty: Two Kinds of Nature” exhibit shows an excellent use of the space. [NEWSIS]

Glimpsing into the first room - Gallery 1 - of the “Korean Beauty: Two Kinds of Nature” exhibition at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) Seoul branch, viewers might think this is just another show of abstract paintings and sculptures based on the so-called aesthetics of whiteness.

The view that Korean art’s qualities are summed up as beauty of whiteness, emptiness and simpleness was prevalent in Korea’s modern art era in the mid-to-late 20th century.

But, if viewers look around the room more carefully, they will see the showcase is not a mere arrangement of minimalist or Zen-style paintings and sculptures. The works are closely related with one other and have a certain flow that evolves as attendees continue along the path of the exhibition.

On one of the walls hang paintings of dots on a white space by Lee U-fan and other artists. The works show “tension between existence and non-existence and between human and nature,” according to the exhibition’s curator, Lee Chu-young. In the center is a giant sculpture depicting two “strokes found from nature.” The strokes seem to have developed by gaining movement from the dots. And further, on the opposite wall, are canvases and sculptures abstractly visualizing the wind.


Lee U-fan’s “Correspondence” is also part of the “Korean Beauty” exhibit. Provided by the museum

“This exhibition is about Korean artists’ correspondence to and interpretations of nature, which has been the source of inspiration to all the artists throughout the world,” Lee explained. “Gallery 1 focuses on the works in which the artists try to visualize the essence and spirituality of nature.”

“It is true that Gallery 1, at a glimpse, looks like the show is focused on modern abstract works based on the aesthetics of whiteness, but you need to see how they evolve in the next spaces - the space linking Gallery 1 and 2,” said Chung Hyung-min, director of the MMCA.

The area that connects Gallery 1 and 2 could be the highlight of this exhibition. On the wall’s highest level hang paintings and photos showing clouds. The artworks in the middle portray a chain of islands in the horizon with pine and bamboo trees lower down. Weeds and wild flowers are pictured on the ground. The works, mostly black-and-white photography, are representational but at the same time, have abstract qualities and a spiritual ambience. The display is an excellent use of the unique space.

Viewers are then led to Gallery 2, where they can see paintings of colorful urban landscapes, including some that depict anonymous city dwellers crossing the road or sitting on subway trains.

*The show runs through Sept. 28. Admission is 4,000 won ($3.78). The cost also covers all the other exhibitions at MMCA Seoul.

For details, call (02) 3701-9500 or visit www.mmca.go.kr.

By moon so-young [symoon@joongang.co.kr]

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