JoongAng Building, 1st Floor, 7 Sunhwa-dong, Jung-gu
18th- 30th November
Opening hours: Monday- Saturday 10am-6pm, extended to 9pm on Wednesday, closed Sunday and national holidays
South Korea has, in a miraculously short amount of time, managed to assert itself as one of the strongest economies of the world, yet it remains a relatively closed country. How much does Joe Public know about the Hermit Kingdom? Primarily using London’s Saatchi Gallery as a platform, contemporary Korean art has been given a chance to dazzle international audiences, thanks to Korean Eye, which was established in 2009 to give voice to the Korean contemporary art scene outwith Korea. The first exhibition, Korean Eye: Moon Generation, exhibited first at the Saatchi Gallery, was a runaway success that saw the duration of the show extended from two weeks to three months and visitor figures reaching 250,000.
Taking lead from Moon Generation, Fantastic Ordinary has been received with equal enthusiasm in 2010 in London, Singapore and now, back on home soil in Seoul. Stakes have been raised this time round and an international curatorial board comprising of six members, has been responsible for the selection of this year’s 12 younger and more experimental artists. Saatchi lent a bigger hand as taking role as one of the organisers and Standard Chartered Bank have increased their sponsorship tenfold. So, why all the fuss? Get yourself down to the Korea Foundation Cultural Centre to find out.
Remaining true to the show’s title, all mixed media works are concerned with the theme of fantasy and ordinary life. Mundane subjects are dealt with in a fantastical fashion and focus is placed on the thin line between real life and fantasy. The artists chosen all share a similar interpretation of fantasy and reality where this line is often crossed, often confused by cerebral processes, either personal or collective, which result in alternative realities.
Three artists make overt statements on Western society, highlighting a complex discourse between cultures. Kim Doung Yoo explores the phenomenon of Western celebrities with his intricate large scale portraits made up of miniature portraits of a different celebrity. Bae Joon Sung borrows aesthetics from Classical art and adds lenticular prints which offer two different realities into the already confusing picture plane. Bae Chan Hyo has already attracted some international attention with his C-prints of set up historical scenes depicting the lavish lifestyles of the European gentrified classes. He inserts himself into the prints as a character, often a bustled and frilled lady, drawing on themes of the West’s dark colonial histories.
Ji Young Ho invents an alternative reality which serves as a warning of the consequences of human consumption with ‘Jaguar,’ 2009. It has been constructed from old tires, which lend the work a distinct smell. The animal is lithe, agile, ferocious and looks as if it is ready to attack at any moment. Park Eun Young provides another Dali-esque, squeamish reality constructed of machines made of fragmented parts of candy coloured body parts. Jeon Chae Gang, winner if the Joongang Fine Arts Prize, depicts a scene of the Han River in all it’s construction site style, with added imagined elephants and donkeys.
Gwon Osnag asserts himself as artist and creator in his sculptural works which are made from hundreds of photographs of the actual model. He takes advantage of artistic license to extend the length of the model’s legs, or the breadth of her shoulders, for example.
Jeon Joon Ho‘s video work shows a helicopter flying over some mountains depicted on a North Korean banknote, carrying a message flying behind it that reads ‘Welcome to Korea.’ The individual letters are then taken down to land and somehow get mis-spelt in the process. An attempt to correct the mistake sees two helicopters colliding and bursting into flames The tone is darkly humorous yet biting.
Kim Hynn Soo portrays a rejection of adulthood and thereby reality in his sculpture, ‘Breik,’ (2008), where the viewer is confronted with a sculpture of a young, nubile boy who has just snapped off one of his two sprouting antlers.
‘The Mess of Emotion No.11,’ is a beautiful, velvety oil painting by Lee Rim, who was nominated by Perrier-Jouet, a Korean Eye partner. A woman twists in despair which takes on a black form, rupturing the smooth curves of her skin as it bubbles up from inside of her.
I spent a lot of time drinking in the sumptuous tapestries of Hong Young In. In ‘Procession,’ 2010, she has embroidered a number of animals at the bottom of the composition. A stag with dominating antlers rises above these animals and acts as a kind of stage for a red robed woman and a man bedecked in a large ruffled collar that stretches out abstractly into the composition. The deer is flanked by another two unrelated figures who gave out off to the side of the composition. The quality of the embroidery is rich and luxurious but the fragmented nature of the different components gives the work an unnerving feel.
For me, the highlight of the show is Shin Meekyoung’s, ‘Translation- Ghost Series,’ 2007, which consists of various Korean and European shaped vases made out of soap, sat upon individual packing crates. There is a subtle perfume from the vases which highlights the melancholy feel of the piece as the viewer is reminded of the ephemeral nature of the work, as well as the theme of actual physical loss it draws upon. The work seems to draw upon dialogue between polar opposites; East and West, past and present, mortal and immortal, real and imagined, in a mournful, frustrated way.
These works are sensitive and touching and compliment each other well in their similar sensibilities. They most certainly don’t share an overly optimistic view of our current state of affairs. Their rejection of reality, rejection of seeing things in simple black and white terms and jarring, fragmented themes resound an uncertain song. These works are merely skimming the surface of contemporary art in Korea and it’s fantastic that they have been given an international voice. Personally, I can’t wait to see the show in the Saatchi Gallery next year.