The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA) presents Birth of the Modern Art Museum: Art and Architecture of MMCA Deoksugung, an exhibition in commemoration of the Deoksugung location’s 20th anniversary as well as the 80th anniversary of the Yi Royal Family Museum building’s establishment.
As of this year, it has been twenty years since MMCA Deoksugung first opened in 1998 at the West Gallery of Seokjojeon Hall in Deoksugung Palace, advocating “a museum focused on modern art.” It has also been eighty years since the establishment of the museum building in 1938 by Japanese architect Nakamura Yoshihei (中村與資平, 1880–1963) under the name, Yi Royal Family Museum. In commemoration of this historic year, Birth of the Modern Art Museum: Art and Architecture of MMCA Deoksugung premieres “Deoksugung Museum of Art Design” (architectural drawings unearthed in Japan in November 2014) and other related records, and observes the history of MMCA’s modern art collection.
MMCA Deoksugung is Korea’s first modern art museum that has been designed as an art museum since its initial planning. Opened as the Yi Royal Family Museum during the Japanese occupation in 1938, the museum embodies vivid anecdotes from its state-driven construction, history of the modern artworks collected by MMCA since its opening in 1969, and stories behind the discovery and collection of modern artworks accelerated by the 1998 opening of MMCA Deoksugung.
The exhibition is composed of five sections: Part 1, “1938: Construction of Yi Royal Family Museum”; Part 2, “The Opening of MMCA and Exhibition 60 Years of Modern Art”; Part 3, “1973–1998: Modern Artworks Collected through Donation”; Part 4, “The Opening of MMCA Deoksugung and Exhibition Modern Art Revisited”; and Part 5, “Last Twenty Years of MMCA Deoksugung.”
Part 1 observes the architectural aesthetics of MMCA Deoksugung through the building’s blueprints and photographs from 1938, the time of Yi Royal Family Museum’s construction, and underlines the significance of MMCA Deoksugung as the first modern art museum in Korea. This section also features four works that had been purchased by the Yi Royal Family Museum, which had been stored in Changdeokgung Palace, that later became a part of the MMCA’s collection.
Part 2 revisits the 1972 exhibition 60 Years of Korean Modern Art held after MMCA’s establishment in 1969 (located in Gyeongbokgung Palace at the time) prior to its actual opening. The exhibition was meaningful in that it was the first showcase of the 60-year history of Korean modern art up through 1972, and that the first lineup of pieces in MMCA’s collection was acquired in the context of this exhibition. Works collected around this period, such as Yellow Jeogori(Korean Traditional Jacket) by Kim Jong-tai and Grandfather and Grandson by Park Soo-keun, became textbook works of Korean modern art.
Part 3 highlights major modern artworks collected through donation and management transfer from 1973 through 1998, before the opening of MMCA Deoksugung. Around this time, modern artworks previously owned by government agencies such as the Blue House or the Korea Culture and Arts Agency were transferred to MMCA, and there was also a substantial donation of artworks by galleries, artists, and their families. Most of the modern masterpieces by Oh Jiho, Lee Jung-seob, Kim Whanki, Yoo Youngkuk, and Kim Heungsou were collected during this time, in the form of a donation.
Part 4 recounts Korean Modern Art Revisited, an exhibition held alongside the opening of the MMCA Deoksugung (Deoksugung Museum of Art at the time) in December 1998. This exhibition was organized as an extension to the Glimpse into Korean Modern —— series, which proclaimed the museum’s official regularization of modern art exhibits. This exhibition triggered mass uncovering of works such as An Jung-sik’s Landscape that had been kept private by bereaved families of artists, and MMCA was able to significantly expand its collection of modern artworks.
Part 5 explores the 20-year trajectory of the museum from 1998 up to 2018. Since its opening in 1998, MMCA has arranged exhibitions that spotlight many modern Korean artists. The solo exhibitions of Chae Yong-sin, Pai Unsoung, Kim Ki-chang, Do Sang-bong, Han Mook, Chang Woo-soung, Lee Ungno, Kim Chong Yung, Suh Seok, Kwon Jinkyu, Lee In-sung, Lee Quede, Lee Jung-seob, and Yoo Youngkuk offered in-depth studies of their works—Part 5 displays the modern artworks acquired from these solo exhibitions.
In addition, the epilogue portion of the exhibition will introduce a new work by Hah Tesoc, reinterpreting MMCA Deoksugung’s architecture. The artist portrays the architectural value of the museum through analyzing the architectural concept of mathematical precision surrounding the cubical main hall of the museum. We hope that this exhibition will be an extraordinary opportunity to discover the true essence of Korean modern art, while appreciating the ‘modern masterpieces’ that have survived the turbulent times of modern Korean history along with MMCA Deoksugung, handed down as an asset to us all.