Mergers with pop culture good for art businessThese days, pop culture stars are increasingly familiar figures in the world of Korean contemporary art.
Actors Ko Soo and Han Hyo-joo will appear in the media artwork “Myohyangsangwan (temporary title)” by Moon Kyung-won and Jeon Joon-ho, who won the 2012 Korea Artist Prize. Just like the team’s “El Fin del Mundo”(2012), the new work will likely straddle the border between fine art and film.
According to BH Entertainment, an entertainment agency that represents the two actors, it will be a short film depicting the rendezvous of a South Korean painter (Ko Soo) and North Korean waitress (Han Hyo-joo) in an overseas North Korean restaurant called Myohyangsangwan.
The film will combine a theatrical plot, experimental imagery, dance and performance art, says the agency.
Moon and Jeon also collaborated with pop culture stars - actors Lee Jung-jae and Lim Soo-jung - in “El Fin del Mundo,” a short film shown simultaneously on two screens. Moon and Jeon presented the film earlier this year as part of the “News From Nowhere” project of videos and installations at Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany, one of the world’s biggest contemporary art shows.
Lee also is a goodwill ambassador for the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA).
The world of so-called high art is making more moves to include pop culture celebrities, which could be a natural follow-up to the popularization of contemporary art. Or it could be the Korean art world’s desperate effort to expand its customer base from wealthy collectors and art connoisseurs to the general public, to escape the fiscal malaise in which it has been mired since the global financial crisis of 2008.
Either way, it seems clear that ordinary Koreans have become more familiar with contemporary art. Until the mid-2000s, only art exhibitions featuring European Impressionists of the late 19th century or super-famous modern artists of the early 20th century attracted wide public attention.
In recent years, however, many people rushed to contemporary art shows like the 2012 solo show of Korean installation artist Do Ho Suh at the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art and the 2013 retrospective of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama at Daegu Art Museum.
In line with this trend, the relationship between fine art and pop culture seems to have evolved into various forms. Media artist Jung Yeon-doo will disclose his new artwork inspired by the girl band Crayon Pop in his upcoming solo show at Plateau gallery.
More than a few actors and actresses are promoting museums or art events as goodwill ambassadors. Some artists participate in the design of K-pop bands’ album covers or related merchandise.
Such developments could help the art world broaden its horizon. But there also is a concern that fine art might become an easily consumable commodity of pop culture.
This is why the reality TV show “Art Star Korea,” which will air from March on cable channel Story On, catches my eye. It will be a kind of survival audition program for young artists. This kind of show has been aired in the United States and United Kingdom, but it’s a first for Korea.
In the popularization of contemporary art, it is a step beyond mere collaboration; it aims to frame artists as pop culture stars in their own right.
Even before the program airs, it has become a hot issue on the art scene. Critics say it is nonsense to require artists to create pieces under certain conditions with time limits and to rank the results. They also accuse the television industry of trying to drag down high art by commercializing it as mere entertainment.
But there are also positive views. Some say the art world already has contest programs such as prize exhibitions held by some museums, and they fail to see how a TV survival show is much different. Others believe that the controversy itself is good for the art world, which remains stubbornly aloof from the general public despite recent moves toward popularization.
The results will be unknown until March, when the first episode of the show will be aired. But one thing I can be sure of is that 2014 will be a dynamic year, full of trials and errors by Korean contemporary artists to pave the way toward a more sustainable coexistence with the popular culture of the nation.
BY Moon So-young [email@example.com]