2020 promises innovative art and a bit of history: Year offers everything from experimental art to war retrospectives

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2020 promises innovative art and a bit of history: Year offers everything from experimental art to war retrospectives


“Sun & Sea (Marina),” from the Lithuanian Pavilion of the 58th Venice Biennale, will be on display for five days at MMCA Seoul. [EPA/YONHAP]

It’s the start of a new decade, and the lineup for 2020 exhibitions are now set.

Major art museums in Korea are looking at the meaningful year in their own ways - looking back into the history of Korean art and looking back into their own collections, as well as expanding their view to the global art scene - but the biggest attractions this year will take place in autumn with Korea’s main art biennials in Gwangju, Busan and Seoul.

Looking back into the past, major public museums will highlight important events from Korea’s 20th century to see what it means to us in the 21st century. The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) plans two major exhibitions that highlight the two major events of Korea in the 20th century - the Korean War (1950-1953) and the Seoul Olympics in 1988 - while the Asia Culture Center in Gwangju readies an exhibition to honor the 40th anniversary of the Gwangju democratic uprising of May 1980.

Museums are also taking a chance to look back at their own data and collections to establish a firmer ground for the future, which mostly involves organizing and rearranging past works for archive exhibitions and publications. The Nam June Paik Art Center is currently preparing to release “Nam June Paik Collection Highlight,” featuring 12 years research and study on 50 of Paik’s representative works, while Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA) has three exhibitions featuring its own collection.

Turning the focus outside of Korea, art institutions will actively invite overseas artist into their halls - especially outside of Seoul. The Daegu Art Museum will host three promising solo exhibitions this year, of artist Daniel Buren, photographer Helmut Newton and artist Tim Eitel, starting in June. The Gwangju Museum of Art will invite British artist Liam Gillick for an exhibition, while at the Busan Museum of Art visitors will get to see Bill Viola’s work inside the museum’s Space Lee Ufan for the special collaboration. In Seoul, MMCA will be inviting “Sun & Sea (Marina),” a performance presented at the Lithuanian Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale last year.

Last but certainly not least, the later half of this year is filled with major art biennials that open in September, including the Gwangju Art Biennale, the Busan Biennale, the Seoul Media City Biennale, the Daegu Photo Biennale and the Jeju Biennale. While the Gwangju Biennale had dominated the local art scene as the biggest art biennale in Korea, Busan also rose to the challenge and proved itself a worthy opponent two years ago, upping the expectations from experts on how the competition will turn out this year. Eyes are also on the Seoul multimedia art biennale, which has appointed a non-Korean director for the first time.

Following is a more detailed list of the exhibitions and biennials to look forward to this year, according to the three categories.


The Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA) hosts various exhibitions this year, including the Seoul Media City Biennale. Above is “Maskirovka” (2017), a photograph by Tobias Zielony, one of the works to be displayed at the media biennale. [SEMA]

Into the past


Asia Culture Center, Gwangju

In May
: Thousands of Gwangju residents joined in protesting against Chun Doo Hwan from May 18 to 27, 1980, during the Gwangju democratic uprising. The Asia Culture Center (ACC) is located right next to the former South Jeolla Provincial Government building, where the final resistance took place. For the 40th anniversary this year, the ACC will cohost art exhibitions and performances along with other museums and galleries in Gwangju. The highlight will be a multimedia exhibition featuring numerous artists from Asia.


MMCA Seoul

From June to September
: The exhibition has been organized for the 70th anniversary of when the Korean War broke. Mostly focusing on the images of the war, war in general and how the people suffer during war, the exhibition will look at the horror of war expressed through different mediums. Indoctrination and conscription of South Korean men, anti-North Korean posters and images will convey the on-going influence of the Korean War on our society today. Participating artists include Hsu Chia-Wei from Taiwan, Moon Kyung-won and Jeon Joon-ho from Korea, Chto Delat from Russia and Kelvin Kyung Kun Park from Korea.


MMCA Cheongju, North Chungcheong

From November 2020 to February 2021
: The 1988 Seoul Olympics was a nationwide festival that both embodied and amplified people’s desire for economic prosperity and cultural elevation. Many cultural policies were executed that year, including the founding of the MMCA Gwacheon in Gyeonggi. The exhibition in particular looks at the Olympiad of Art - an international art event led by the Seoul Olympic Organizing Committee featuring artists from 100 countries. All the works were donated to Korea after the exhibition.

Looking outside


Seoul Arts Center

From Feb. 6 to April 23
: The Bologna Children’s Book Fair is the biggest gathering for children’s books and illustrators in the world. It began in 1967. Over 3,000 illustrators from all over the world take part every year. The exhibition looks at 300 original illustrations and books by 76 artists, all of which won awards at the 2019 Bologna fair. It will be a chance to see the most experimental and frontier illustrations right here in Korea. Artists include Miren Asiain Lora, Jan Bajtlik, Ballboss, Sandro Bassi and Kim Seul-kee.


Daegu Art Museum

From May 5 to Aug. 30
: French conceptual artist Daniel Buren is known for his genius play of light and space, installing his colorful works all over the world including Korea. The Daegu Art Museum presents its first-ever educational exhibition with works that Buren made especially for children. His solo exhibition will also be held at the same time, featuring some of his most representative works from the 1960s to his most recent projects.


MMCA Seoul

In July
: The performance piece was presented at the Lithuanian Pavilion of the 58th Venice Biennale last year, and was awarded a Golden Lion for best national pavilion of the event. Created by artists Rugile Barzdziukaite, Vaiva Grainyte and Lina Lapelyte, the performance begins with people relaxing in the sun on the beach - set out with sand and parasols inside the pavilion - and slowly moves on to the contemporary issues we face, mostly regarding the environment. The performance will take place in Seoul for five days.


Daegu Art Museum

From Sept. 15 to Jan. 3, 2021
: Fashion photographer Helmut Newton captures the image of people and cityscapes at their most powerful moments, creating subversive images that capture the viewer’s attention with the subjects’ gaze. His solo exhibition will be held at the Daegu museum as a part of the Daegu Photo Biennale, which takes place from Sept. 18 to Oct. 27 across the city. The main exhibition of the biennale, “with/against flow” has been directed by German curator Dr. Britta Schmitz.


September will be the highlight of this year for art enthusiasts, with Korea’s major art biennials kicking off that month. From left are directors of the Gwangju Biennale, Busan Biennale and Seoul Media City Biennale: Natasha Ginwala and Defne Ayas; Jacob Fabricius; and Yung Ma. [GWANGJU BIENNALE, BUSAN BIENNALE, SEOUL MEDIA CITY BIENNALE]

The biennales


Gwangju Biennale Exhibition Hall

From Sept. 4 to Nov. 29
: As the biggest and oldest art biennale in Korea, the Gwangju Biennale is known to be the hub of experiment and innovation for not only the local art scene but Asia. This year’s event will be directed by Defne Ayas and Natasha Ginwala with the title: “Minds Rising, Spirits Tuning.” It will deal with the question of where precisely organic intelligence exists in an age now waiting to face super-intelligence. The biennale examines the meaning of the heart, the mind and the soul through artistic and theoretical means.



From Sept. 8 to Nov. 22
: This year’s multimedia art biennale, the Seoul Media City Biennale, has appointed the first non-Korean art director: Yung Ma. He is the curator of the Contemporary Art and Prospective Creation Department at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and also previously served as the previous associate curator of moving image at M+, Hong Kong (2011?16). This year’s theme “One Escape At A Time” will look at contemporary people’s urge to escape from the reality to the virtual world, which ultimately leads to a collective imagination that shapes and changes the virtual world. Some 40 artists from in and outside of Korea will participate.


Busan Museum of Art

In September
: This year’s Busan Biennale will be directed by Jacob Fabricius, the director of Denmark’s Kunsthal Aarhus since 2016 and also a board member of the Danish Arts Foundation’s committee for visual arts.

BY YOON SO-YEON [yoon.soyeon@joongang.co.kr]
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