The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA; director Youn Bummo), presents To the World through Art, Highlights of MMCA Global Art Collection from the 1980s-1990s that opens on 20 January 2022 to 12 June 2022 in MMCA Cheongju’s Special Exhibition Gallery.
As Korea’s first storage-type art museum, MMCA Cheongju Art Storage Center has established itself as an alternative visual arts space. The museum is comprised of the Open Storage on the first floor, the Visible Storage and Teum, an interactive rest area, on the second floor, the Art Bank Open Storage and Visible Conservation Science Laboratory on the third floor, the Special Storage on the fourth floor, and the Special Exhibition Gallery on the fifth floor.
This exhibition overviews the MMCA’s acquisitions from the 1970s to the 2000s and highlights works of international art in the museum collection, including 104 works of sculpture, drawing, and painting by 96 artists of diverse nationalities acquired after 1978. More than half of the works in the exhibition are being unveiled to the public for the first time since their acquisition, and many others are being removed from storage for the first time in over 30 years.
Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the Cold War between the East and West that dominated the first half of the century came to a close, giving way to an era of concord and prosperity, people were filled with the expectation that advances in information and communication technology would connect and unite the world as one. Korea was particularly engulfed by aspirations for strengthening national competitiveness after Seoul was designated the host city of the 1988 Summer Olympic Games, and “globalization fever” reached a peak across Korean society. The art scene was no different. While it began to seek opportunities to introduce Korean art overseas, it also started to diversify the routes and methods through which foreign art could enter the country. This exhibition mainly overviews how the international artworks in the MMCA’s collection were acquired, as well as the meaning of their acquisition in the historical context of the globalization that characterized the 1980s and the 1990s. While the acquisitions of international artworks made prior to the year 2000 reflected the museum’s dedication to expanding its collection in size in response to societal desires for globalization, the acquisitions made after 2000 were based on the museum’s selective focus on value—that of the artists or works—in terms of contemporary art history.
The exhibition consists of five sections that examine aspects of international art exchange and the MMCA’s international artwork collection: Overseas Artists Visiting Korea; Art Communication and Exchange at the Global Level; The World Gazing through Art; Seoul to the World, the World to Seoul; and Art, a Window to the World.
Part 1: Overseas Artists Visiting Korea introduces five of the six works by international artists acquired between 1978 and 1981, most of which were donated by the artists themselves. Adrienne Walker Hoard and Manuel Baldemor decided to donate their entries to the MMCA after participating in the exhibition Korean Impressions. Richard Franklin, who had left all of his equipment in his New York studio and come to Korea empty-handed with the intention of procuring the necessary materials and themes directly on-site, produced a work using hanji (Korean traditional paper) and bamboo for his solo exhibition at the MMCA.
Part 2: Art Communication and Exchange at the Global Level surveys and assesses the shortcomings of the role the MMCA played in international Korean art exchanges in the early 1980s. The Membership Society for the MMCA, which has served as an assistant to the MMCA since its founding in 1978, contributed six international artworks, including a David Hockney piece; it also invited revered overseas artists such as Donald Judd to host lectures. In the early 1980s, Nam June Paik also voluntarily arranged and even negotiated the sales of works by Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and Christo that have now come to represent the MMCA’s international art collection. As such, the early years of the museum’s collection of international artworks, to an extent, relied on personal relationships and connections.
Part 3: The World Gazing through Art examines the role print exhibitions played in the process of Korean art’s globalization, highlighting the large number of print works donated to the museum up until the mid-1980s, plus those acquired from the Seoul International Print Biennale hosted by the Dong-A Ilbo. The collection of lithographs donated by French critic Pierre Wicart in 1986 is also presented in this section as evidence that the print exhibition boom of the 1980s introduced Koreans to unique, unfamiliar European scenery and Western art.
The title of Part 4: Seoul to the World, the World to Seoul was a slogan exclaimed by International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Juan Antonio Samaranch at the opening ceremony of the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, and it also symbolizes Korean contemporary art’s stride onto the world stage. Despite the enormous budget of KRW 9 billion, the Olympiad of Art—a side event during the Olympics—was met with a major backlash from the Korean art scene due to careless administration and issues of partiality. The MMCA, which was in charge of the exhibition of international paintings at the event, received a donation of 39 sculptures and 62 large-scale paintings from artists who participated in the exhibition as well as the outdoor sculpture symposium in Olympic Park. This section features 16 paintings that haven’t been on display since their provincial tour exhibition in 1990 to shed new light on the significance of the Olympiad of Art and the value of the donated works in the context of art history.
Part 5: Art, a Window to the World presents various works that explore aspects of the international artwork acquisition (purchasing) that was actively carried out as channels for international art exchange opened up after the Seoul Olympics. From German neo-expressionist works by Georg Baselitz and Markus Lüpertz to Italian trans-avant-garde works by Enzo Cucchi, Supports/Surfaces art by Claude Viallat, minimalist pieces by Donald Judd, and works of pop art and op art, this section explores explore diverse aspects of Western contemporary art history through artworks in the museum collection.
Meanwhile, a correlated exhibition program titled What is an Art Storage invites visitors to Teum, a rest area on the second floor. In line with the exhibition’s focus on the museum collection, this program screens an animated film that delineates the process through which collected works are stored and exhibited to provide an easy understanding of the function and role of MMCA Cheongju as an art storage center. Also, in light of the MMCA’s acquisitional activities of the 1980s and 1990s, which were aimed at allowing museum visitors to experience the world through international works of art, a string art workshop on Teum’s large wall offers an experience of the world and other countries, guiding visitors “to the world through art.” Here, visitors can freely express themselves while unrolling the paper and stamping national flags on it. These programs carried out at Teum are open to anyone who wishes to participate.
Youn Bummo, director of the MMCA, notes, “This exhibition was organized to introduce the many international works in the MMCA collection that have remained unexhibited, remember their value in terms of art history and research, and build a foundation for further study. It is our hope that this exhibition marks the beginning of a series of in-depth research on the collection, and that the works are studied from various angles including art historical, sociocultural, political, diplomatic, and economic points of view in the future.”