Posco aims to make art accessible for all
The work is by Jeong Hyeon-woo, an employee of the EIC (electric, instrument, communication) engineering division at the company’s steel mill in Gwangyang, South Jeolla.
Sure, the piece isn’t an Andy Warhol, but the Posco Art Museum - nestled inside the glassy, towering Posco Center in the Gangnam business district known as Tehran Street - certainly thought it deserved a spot, along with about 120 other works of art by Posco staff, which are displayed in an ongoing exhibition titled “Great Amateurs.”
This is the sixth show of its kind at Posco Art Museum, which opened in 1998 and has about 1,100 pieces in its collection.
Every fall, the company runs an art program for its employees in Seoul; Pohang, North Gyeongsang; and Gwangyang, South Jeolla, and holds an exhibition of their work.
Pohang-based Posco has steel mills in Pohang and Gwangyang.
This year, 157 of the company’s employees in Seoul, 227 in Pohang and 97 in Gwangyang took part in the program, which also allowed family members to get involved.
“Posco has been supporting the art and culture scene steadily for years,” said Jeong Yong-min, a manager at the company’s public relations department, “to highlight its softer and more humane side, and do away with the cold and rough corporate image [usually associated with those in the steel industry].”
According to a recent survey conducted by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and the Korea Culture and Tourism Institute, participation in an art or culture program by the country’s citizens has been increasing steadily since 2010.
The survey - conducted with some 10,000 Koreans aged 15 and older between Aug. 1 and Sept. 12 - found that the participation rate was 4.7 percent this year, rising from 3.7 percent in 2012 and 2.2 percent in 2010.
By category, participation in art exhibitions topped the list with 1.7 percent.
However, the survey also says there are few opportunities for Koreans to study art outside of school, highlighting the importance of programs like Posco’s.
The number of people who learned about or participated in art outside of the classroom was 9.2 percent in 2010 and continued to decline to 8.7 percent in 2012 and 6.9 percent in 2014.
“We were a bit puzzled by this figure [as most of other culture indicators pointed upward],” Yun So-young of the Korea Culture and Tourism Institute said. “We are looking into what’s causing this decline.”
Art for all
Posco was established as Pohang Iron and Steel in 1968 under former President Park Chung Hee’s government, which was determined to strengthen Korean industries and drive the country out of its postwar destitution.
In particular, Park was determined to produce steel, the base material for most manufacturing industries, and he pledged enormous support to Posco.
A 1970 memo obtained by the JoongAng Sunday, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, stipulates that Posco has the authority to choose its manufacturers and suppliers and contains a government guarantee in case urgent contracts are required.
With the paper, signed by Park himself, the fledgling steelmaker could bypass any restrictions that may have blocked its path toward expansion and economic strength.
The company has seen stunning growth over the years as a state-run steelmaker in a fast-developing country.
In 1994, it was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The following year, the Posco Center opened.
“Let’s not forget that our memories are sparking like stars in the history of Posco as well as the modern history of Korea,” Park Tae-joon (1927-2011) founder and former president of Posco, once said.
This attests to how the early members of Posco felt extreme pride for contributing to lifting Korea out of postwar poverty and helping the public becoming more affluent from the 1960s to the 1980s.
Similarly, in terms of its sponsorship of art and culture today, the company is confident that its support of artistic and cultural activities reaches out to the people, even the most art illiterate, and in the process helps the needy as well.
Alongside the “Great Amateurs” exhibition at Posco Art Museum was a seasonal flea market, dubbed “Happy Christmas.”
At the event, which wrapped up Tuesday, 57 artists, craftsmen and designers sold their work to visitors. Twenty percent of the profits will be donated to a charity organization.
The flea market, which began in 2001, has donated 34.9 million won ($31,544) so far.
There is also the opportunity to buy pieces at the event for just 100,000 won in a project that is designed to help young and relatively lesser-known artists.
“It’s like flea markets in the Hongdae district,” Kang Jung-ha, the museum’s curator said. “[The exhibition and the flea market] are aimed at spreading the holiday spirit and warmth.”
The museum, situated on the first and basement floor of the Posco center, is free of charge and holds about 10 exhibitions a year.
Steel and art
Posco’s interest in art was extensively reported on back in the late 1990s. One large-profile story arose when the company bought Frank Stella’s piece “Amabel,” or what appears to be the remains of a tragic plane crash, for the front of the Posco Center.
The company reportedly bought the installation at $1.4 million and placed it at its current location in 1996 as public art. Frank Stella built the piece using materials that would be used to make an airplane, in honor of an artist friend’s daughter who died in an aviation accident.
The work is also meant to symbolize the endurance of steel and the role it has played in the history of mankind.
However, those were the years when Koreans didn’t really grasp the notion of public art. The response to the installation was not welcoming to say the least.
In fact, some people outright hated it - to the point that Posco was forced to deliberate donating the piece to the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.
However, because of the high price of moving the piece, as well as the support of some members of the community, it stayed at the current site. Love it or hate it, “Amabel” (which was renamed “Flowering Structure - Amabel”) has become a representative feature of Tehran Street.
This time last year, for instance, works by installation artists were juxtaposed with “Amabel” in an exhibition titled “Newly, Daily, Truly,” allowing passersby to enjoy pieces that light up at night for free in the cold, corporate atmosphere of the street.
Posco Center also displays other pieces by world-renowned artists such as Nam June Paik’s “TV Funnel, TV Tree (Chul Ye Chul Chul)” on the first floor, as well as Frank Stella’s “Marbotikin Dulda” and Lee Ufan’s “Relatum” series on the second floor.
The building, which includes a massive aquarium, also transforms into a public concert hall, having hosted more than 160 music performances since a New Year’s Eve concert in 1999 that covered both popular and classical music.
“The concert is attended by about 10,000 people very year. It’s free of charge. Anybody can apply to attend on the company’s website,” said Jeong of Posco.
“We are also holding concerts for those who cannot usually enjoy cultural activities like multicultural families.”
He added that the show helped the company receive an award from the Korea Mecenat Association in 2005.
Besides art and music, the company has also hosted the Pohang International Fireworks Festival in Pohang since 2004. The festival has been chosen by the Culture Ministry as a “rising festival” for three years in a row since 2011. The organizers say they hope it will help to revitalize the regional economy.
The company also helped restore Sungnyemun, Korea’s National Treasure No. 1, which burned down in an arson attack in 2008.
Although there are allegations that the government and the artisans didn’t restore the gate properly, Posco provided 10 tons of iron ore and 300 million won so that traditional production of steel could be used, just as the government promised to the Korean people.
BY KIM HYUNG-EUN [email@example.com]