Artist fuses East, West in latest body of work

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Artist fuses East, West in latest body of work


“Chaekgado — An Illusion About the Sublime” by painter Nam Kyung-min combines the still-life motifs of traditional Korean bookshelves and still-life objects inspired by the 17th-century Dutch genre vanitas in the artist’s own colors and tones. It is part of Nam’s solo exhibition at the Savina Museum. Provided by the museum

Nam Kyung-min is well known for her series of paintings that depict Western art masters’ rooms in a symbolic, imaginary form.

And now, she has created her own version of old Korean masters’ rooms - images that are being shown to the public for the first time in a solo exhibition at the Savina Museum of Contemporary Art in central Seoul.

The exhibition, titled “Staying in the Mindscape,” features 15 of Nam’s new paintings. They include pieces that have reimagined the rooms of illustrious Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) painters such as Shin Saimdang, Kim Hong-do, Shin Yun-bok and Jeong Seon.

The rooms in Nam’s work also include the masters’ art within them, resulting in images of paintings of paintings. But the layers are more complicated than that. For example, it is unclear whether or not Jeong’s famous landscape painting in an image by Nam is a picture hanging in his imaginary room or a landscape seen through its window. Nam has deliberately mixed perspectives and removed shades to create ambiguity.

The paintings seem not only an homage to the masters but also part of Nam’s desire to archive their work in the virtual spaces of her work. Such a desire is highlighted in “Chaekgado - An Illusion About the Sublime.” This painting combines the motifs of chaekgado - a traditional Korean still-life genre that depicts shelves filled with books, stationery and antiques - and vanitas.

Vanitas, which means vanity in Latin, is a still-life genre that was mainly popular in the 17th-century Netherlands. These paintings depict a skull, a candle, an hourglass and other objects that symbolize human beings moving toward the inevitability of death, along with splendid goods related to vanity.

Chaekgado were popular in the 18th- and 19th-century Joseon era, reflecting the intellectual appetite of the people of the times.

Nam’s chaekgado shows the artist’s desire to cumulate and combine the knowledge and aesthetics of the East and West in her own virtual space with bright colors and tones.

“Yes, I think I have an archival desire,” laughed Nam. “I often put a skull in my painting to awaken myself ... And my paintings have some motifs of my own such as a wing. It symbolizes hope and help me recall myself as an artist.”

By Moon So-young []

*The exhibition runs through Dec. 19. Admission is 3,000 won (2.70 dollar) for adults. The museum is closed on Monday. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. For details, visit or call (02) 736-4371.
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