In the special exhibition 1900s-1960s Modern Art from the MMCA Collection, MMCA uses numerous masterpieces from its renowned collection to present a fresh perspective on the history of Korean modern art.
In the late nineteenth century, Korean traditional art found itself at a crossroads, due to the influx of new materials, techniques, and styles from overseas. Indeed, moving into the early twentieth century, the popular perception of an artist was drastically changing. Whereas artists had once exclusively served the royal court or upper class, producing artworks according to the demands of others, they were now beginning to open their eyes to the freedom of pursuing their own creative will and expression. Of course, the first half of the twentieth century was a time of great turmoil for Korea, beginning with the Japanese annexation and colonial rule (1910–1945), followed by independence in 1945, and concluding with the Korean War (1950–1953). In this era of conflict and confusion, a few artists remained steadfast on their own creative path, while others continually adapted to the rapidly changing world around them. As both witnesses of social changes and pioneers of artistic production, Korean artists strived to capture the essence of their lives in their artworks, which are now imbued with their indelible spirit.
This exhibition features about 150 works by more than 110 artists, including oil paintings, traditional ink paintings, crafts, and more. The exhibition has been chronologically divided into three sections:
BUDDING OF MODERN ART (1900s–1920s); SEARCH FOR NEW EXPRESSIONS (1930s–1940s); and EVINCING CONSCIOUSNESS (1950s–1960s).
SECTION 1. BUDDING OF MODERN ART: 1900s–1920s examines how traditional painting changed with the influx of foreign styles, the introduction and influence of photography, and the early development of oil painting in Korea. After the Japanese annexation in 1910, Korean artists channeled both their anguish and their hope into their works, filling them with an emotional potency that continues to resonate with viewers to this day.
SECTION 2. SEARCH FOR NEW EXPRESSIONS: 1930s–1940s introduces the first generation of Korean artists who had been fully trained and educated at art school. While these artists comprehensively explored traditional oil painting motifs, including nudes, landscapes, and still-lifes, they also freely experimented with new styles and modes of expression, such as Impressionism, Fauvism, Expressionism, and abstract art.
SECTION 3. EVINCING CONSCIOUSNESS: 1950s-1960s focuses on the period in which Korean artists began actively seeking to express their mind and consciousness through their works. Having survived the devastation of the Korean War, postwar artists sought to convey a spirit of hope and recovery through diverse creative endeavors. While academic realism became the prevalent style, primarily through the influence of the National Art Exhibition of Korea, abstract art also came into its own, as more Korean artists traveled overseas and became active in international cities.