Contemporary art, honed over the turbulent 20th century through all the radical shifts and seething commotions, still boasts its stature in the 21st century, at a time when artificial intelligence no less is a contender to be the next-generation painter. As the boundaries between the genres deteriorated, contemporary art has perpetually evolved in its outer form (from hybrid art combining and integrating the best parts of different genres and high-resolution videos and media art, to large and flamboyant installations born out of the factory production system representative of the era of capitalism and maximum efficiency, to sound and light installation and large-scale performances melded with video and choreography), appealing to the public as something “desirable, though somewhat abstruse yet convincing.”
This exhibition stemmed from the question: does “painting,” i.e. the most conservative and traditional art form definable as the rendition of artistic ideas and concepts on a flat surface (canvas or paper) using oil, acrylic, or watercolor paint, still hold meaning in an era marked by rapid change, especially when the definition of “contemporary art” is so infinitely stretched?
Throughout the history of contemporary art, painting has undergone many theoretical crises and deaths. The very first threat to painting’s existence came in the late 19th century with the advent of the camera. The camera, seeing as it captures the world more accurately than any image reproduced by the hands of an artist, had a monstrous presence. Nevertheless, keen artists broadened their horizons to the mysterious territories of the surreal, abstract, and conceptual—areas inaccessible by photography—and paraded through 20th-century art history as vanguards of the mainstream art scene.
From the late 1990s to the early 2000s, the Korean art world was also affected by a surge of doubtful theories as to why painting has its limits. With the emergence of experimental alternative spaces, the art scene was flush with video, media art, and installations. This trend took a dramatic turn through the unprecedented art boom in the mid-2000s when hyper-realistic and decorative paintings became highly popular in Korea. And ever since the dusk of the short prime, the Korean art scene has continued down a long tunnel of recession leading to date.
This exhibition presents works by painters in their 30s and 40s who have constructed their own unique painterly identities through ceaseless effort in the fiercely competitive art scene in attempt to estimate their potential for further development and growth. These painters deploy idiomatic techniques in expressing their subjective perspectives on people and the world attained from intensive rumination on and exploration of the life and reality before them. The 17 artists featured in this exhibition unfold their own artistic worlds around the museum space—inside and outside the gallery spaces including the lobby area and the glass walls of the Open Storage.
The “contemporary landscape of the world” will never cease to evolve and expand as long as it’s physically experienced and importunately rendered by its contemporary artists. Artists are those who set and walk their own paths without excuses, uncompromised by worldly standards and assessments. The title I Will Go Away All by Myself sums up the fate of the artists who must face the world all on their own. The artistic realm they seek to reach always remains an unknown territory. It’s a place no one has reached before and the path toward it is lonely, dreary, thorny, and narrow—too narrow for any family or friend to walk alongside. Yet an artist does not hesitate to choose this path, and that’s what makes art noble.