Tigers never change their stripes — unless they're at these exhibits
In Korean culture, it has long been believed that ferocious and brave tigers chase away evil spirits.
In the Year of the Tiger, two exhibitions, hosted by commercial galleries Hori Artspace and Gallery Sein both in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, explore the theme of tigers among the artworks of 13 contemporary artists.
“Beyond the Frame: Why the Tiger Became a Cat”
In “Beyond the Frame: Why the Tiger Became a Cat” at Hori Artspace and AIF Lounge, just one floor above, tigers have been transformed into friendly household cats. It begs the question, “why are tigers perceived as distant and unrealistic creatures, when cats have naturally become human companions?”
“It’s a fun twist, because although tigers are wild animals and they seem mystical or scary, they’re related to domestic cats,” Bae Min-young, curator of the exhibition, told the Korea JoongAng Daily. The furry creatures have been expressed in various ways, including through pop art and folk paintings, to “break the stereotypes people have [about tigers or cats].”
Eight contemporary artists participated in the exhibition that features 53 paintings and sculptures, but not all of them showcase tigers. Some depict cats and others natural scenery — but the jungle and mountainous landscapes seem like the perfect habitat for the wild animals, Bae said. The icy mountain range in “Climbing Icefall” (2021) by artist Ryu Kap-kyu is one example of a place where a tiger might feel at home.
Artist Kim Yeo-ok’s “PoppyCat” series (2019-20) of black three-dimensional stoneware cats attached to canvases aims to portray the communion between cats and humans, and the idea of empathy. Kim is so fond of her stoneware cats that in her studio, they are placed on the floor and even on cat cushions, almost like real cats. This is because Kim wants to avoid objectifying the creatures and accept each and every one as an individual, curator Bae explained.
Another artist, Kim Kyung-won, repeatedly paints animals and overlaps them, almost as if the same image has been stamped hundreds of times. “Is it a Tiger?” (translated) (2022) was inspired by Kim’s own experience of painting a tiger. Before she painted on its signature stripes, she was struck by how much it resembled a cat. Hence, she repeatedly drew the animals to overlap with each other and create the shape of a question mark.
We don’t see tigers very often in our day-to-day activities, but this exhibition reminds us that perhaps they are closer to us than we actually think, through their smaller relatives: the house cat.
“Beyond the Frame: Why the Tiger Became a Cat” ends Feb. 10. Hori Artspace is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Tuesdays to Saturdays. The gallery is closed on national holidays. Admission is free and no reservations are required.
“Eo-heung! A Tiger is Coming”
Part 1 of Gallery Sein’s “Eo-heung! A Tiger is Coming” was created in the hopes that the tiger’s strong energy would encourage the world to strive on and overcome a time of crisis, like the current pandemic.
Artworks featuring tigers therefore serve as good luck charms, according to Jeong Yong-sook, director of Gallery Sein, as the animals have long been defined as symbols of piety and gratitude.
Although the gallery itself is no bigger than the size of a typical living room, and there are only about 30 artworks on display, the exhibition still stands out as all five contemporary artists have reimagined tigers in their own uniquely profound way.
Artist Kim Jung-youn’s illustrations of tigers are exaggerated yet adorable; they have large eyes with marble-like pupils and mouths that take up half of their faces with long fangs. In “Tiger and Magpie are Old Friends” (translated) (2021), 11 tigers and 11 magpies are hidden among a sea of tails — the number 11 is also considered lucky.
On the floor of the gallery are colorful ceramic statues of tigers. Artist Jang Mee-kyoung’s tigers appear to have wandered straight out of a wonderland. Some are colored blue with white clouds and others have green eyes. Jang’s sculptures are described by the gallery as “eliciting a strong friendly personality without losing their sense of humor."
Although Part 1 of “Eo-heung! A Tiger is Coming” ends Saturday, Part 2 will begin on Jan 18. and run through Jan. 27 with new artworks from five different contemporary artists.
Gallery Sein is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. The gallery closes at 5 p.m. on Saturdays. Admission is free and no reservations are required.
BY SHIN MIN-HEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]