Museums turn to the internet to make sure art is seen: They are working hard to stay relevant as the outbreak shuts doors

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Museums turn to the internet to make sure art is seen: They are working hard to stay relevant as the outbreak shuts doors


MMCA Director Yoon Bum-mo explains Park Saeng-kwang’s “Jeon, Bong-jun” (1985). [MMCA]

As national art galleries and museums keep their doors shut as part of the government’s efforts to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, institutions are coming up with ways to provide people a chance to enjoy art through various digital platforms. The shutdown was initially scheduled to end on Sunday, but it is expected to last longer.

Leading the way is Korea’s biggest museum, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA). Since the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism shut state-run facilities on Feb. 24, The MMCA has posted various online programs, such as videos of exhibition tours guided by curators or interviews with the four Artist of the Year winners of 2019. The museum also recently kicked off the “The Modern and Contemporary Korean Writing” exhibition at the Deoksu Palace branch of its museum in central Seoul online.

Upping its game, the MMCA recently started its series of “Museum Collection Lecture” where Yoon Bum-mo, the director of MMCA, takes the microphone to explain 12 pieces of art from the museum’s collection for 10 minutes.

The first lecture, streamed live through Facebook on April 8, was on Park Saeng-kwang’s painting “Jeon, Bong-jun” (1985).


The Nam June Paik Art Center’s latest exhibition kicked off online on April 8, below left. Seoul Arts Center streamed its performances through YouTube, below right. [NAM JUNE PAIK ART CENTER, SEOUL ARTS CENTER]

“The most visible thing about ‘Jeon, Bong-jun’ is Park Saeng-kwang’s use of the five cardinal colors in a thick and heavy manner,” explained director Yoon. “Just as dansaekhwa [Korean monochrome paintings] was the trend in the 1970s, it was seldom the case that bright colors were used then. So the case of artist Park Saeng-kwang is very rare.”

“Jeon, Bong-jun” is a 5.1-by-3.60-meter (16.7-by-11.8-foot) painting that depicts the historical figure Jeon Bong-jun who led the Donghak Peasant Revolution (1894-95) during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Park, born in 1904 in Korea, studied art in Japan and came back to Korea after the liberation of Korea in 1945. He is well-known for his command of strong colors, which he uses to evoke an eerie folklore vibe. Other pieces by Park owned by the MMCA include “Shamanism-16” (1985), “Emperor” (1982) and “Shaman” (1981).

“The painting has the main character, Jeon Bong-jun, in the center to emphasize him, but gives equal weight in highlighting the desperate facial expressions of the peasants around him, pulling off the best balance of power. Through this contrast, we can see the message that he wanted to send through the character and why he wanted to tell that story,” said Yoon.

Park’s painting, as well as the other 11 pieces that will follow, were chosen through an online survey conducted from December last year on 2,000 museumgoers. The next in line is Ko Hui-dong’s “Self-portrait” (1915), which will go online on April 22 at 4 p.m. Others will include “Portrait of Emperor KoChong” (1920) by Chae Yong-shin, “Portrait of a Friend” (1935) by Gu Bon-ung, “Rondo” (1938) by Kim Whanki, “Portrait of a Lady” (1940s) by Lee Qoede, “Open Stalls” (1956) by Park Re-hyun, “Jiwon’s Face” (1967) by Kwon Jin-kyu and “The More, The Better” (1987) by Nam June Paik. One to two videos will be released every month. Other online programs are also available through the MMCA’s YouTube, Facebook and Instagram accounts.

“The ‘Museum Collection Lecture’ is an effort by the MMCA to meet with viewers from all over the world, at any time and place online,” said Yoon. “The coronavirus has made it difficult for you to visit a museum, but we hope this allows a chance for you to enjoy modern art by looking at our collection at home.”

For other national or city-run art museums, the most common method of museums joining in the digital effort is by revealing the contents of their exhibit online.

The Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA) announced on Thursday that it has kicked off its new exhibition, “Collecting for All” at the Seosomun branch of the museum in central Seoul. It will run through May 31 and look at what it means to own and collect art for a public art museum in this day and age. As a part of the event, the Nam SeMA in southern Seoul will hold “Collecting Architecture for All” to run through June 14, featuring works specifically related to architecture.

The museum vowed earlier this year to research deeper into its collection to create additional value to its archive. Thus looking at the idea of “collecting” artworks is one of SeMA’s main focuses for this year, especially as a city-run facility. How can the museum better its collection and further utilize its collection to shape the contemporary art world? The two exhibitions are a beginning for the museum to find the answer. Both of the exhibits will be posted online through SeMA’s social media accounts.

The Nam June Paik Art Center’s latest exhibition “The Future of Silence: When your tongue vanishes” started its online display on April 8. It was supposed to kick off on Feb. 27 but was put on hold.

The exhibition features nine artists, who have each expressed their ideas on language - specifically on the changes that a language goes through when people forget it or people are forced to forget it. Artists Kim Woo-jin, Lawrence Lek, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Jaye Moon, Angelica Mesiti, Yeom Ji-hye, Lee Ju-ho, Lee Ju-seung and Jesse Chun each present their ideas on the hierarchical power struggle surrounding the way we use our language. The title, “The Future of Silence,” has been taken from novelist Kim Ae-ran’s work of the same title, which looks at the role of languages as a means of survival. A total of 11 works is on display.

Other museums that have online museums include the Ulsan Culture & Arts Center, Seoul Museum of History, Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, Seoul Arts Center, Donuimun Museum Village and the Icheon World Ceramic Center.

For those who think just watching something online isn’t enough, the Suwon Museum of Art began “The Drawing Draw” program last month to add a bit of fun for people staying at home. Anyone can sign up for a drawing kit and pick it up at the museum, then take it home for their imagination to do the work. They are free to fill the pages with any drawing or writing of their interest. After they send back the finished work to the museum, the museum uploads it to its social media accounts to share with everyone else. For a team of more than 15 people, the museum sends the package through parcel. The project will take place until June 12.


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