Korea’s first fine arts museum looks back : MMCA Deoksugung’s stone building celebrates its 80th birthday this year
Designed by Japanese architect Nakamura Yoshihei (1880-1963), the museum served in its early years as a hub of art not for Korean artists, but to promote advanced Japanese culture during colonial rule. Though it may have been used to deride the Korean artistic talent, MMCA takes the chance to honor the building as the nation’s first fine art museum, which was built under strict mathematical principles, unlike other Korean buildings of that time.
“The idea of space came with the advent of modernism,” said Prof. Kim Jong-hun of the department of architecture at Pai Chai University. “We do not have many buildings in Korea that show the modern idea of space, but this [museum] has interpreted and presented a space that’s based solely on numbers, where everything is based on the multiples of the number three.”
The exhibition takes place across five sections: the first section focusing on the architectural value of MMCA Deoksugung, and the other four highlighting the museum’s efforts to bring together valuable works of Korean modern art from different eras. Since transforming itself into MMCA Deoksugung, it has since put on numerous exhibits that look back at the history of modern art in Korea and shed light on Korean artists that had been shadowed in the past, an overview of which takes place in the rest of the exhibition.
The exhibition continues in the other sections, featuring nearly 90 works that were on display in past exhibitions, starting from 1972 to the present day. Some important works include “Self-Portrait” (1915) by Ko Hui-dong (1886-1965), the first Western-style painter in Korea; “Rondo” (1938) by the renowned Kim Whanki (1913-1974); “Seoul Scenery” (1898) by Dutch painter Hubert Vos (1855-1935), the only foreign painter on display and “Kaiyu” (1932) by Lee In-sung (1912-1950).
A special section named “Architecture Infinite Proliferating Geometry” by Hah Te-soc is a video that demonstrates a geometrical representation of the museum’s structure, created for this exhibition.
“This exhibition is a look into the historical and aesthetic value of the museum,” said Bartomeu Mari, director of MMCA. “It’s also the chance to realize the fundamental idea of the museum that was not realized at that time. We wish to highlight the value of the Deoksugung building, which is monumental in itself.”
BY YOON SO-YEON [firstname.lastname@example.org]
*The 1,000-won ($0.88) ticket for Deoksu Palace covers the exhibition. The palace is closed on Mondays. Go to City Hall Station, lines No. 1 and 2, exit 2. For more information, call (02) 2022-0600 or visit www.mmca.go.kr.