The most fundamental task of National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea is to promote the conservation of Korean art for future generations. Thus, the museum is dedicated to collecting and exhibiting culturally valuable art work to educate and inspire the public.
Performance art, which uses the body of the artist as the medium, occupies an important part in Korean contemporary art history, and is a valuable cultural asset that remembers the contemporary times. However, it poses a unique problem for the museum in terms of capturing and preserving the performances, which in their nature, are fleeting and ephemeral.
Typically, performance art disappears into the past, only remembered through abstract data, and even these scarce obscure remnants are vanishing into folds of history. To help prevent this from happening, the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea is pleased to present an exhibition documenting 40 years of performance art history in Korea. This exhibition, a work of conservation in itself, retraces the fading memories of performance art in Korea.
As it's often agreed that catalogue is the only remnant of an exhibition, Performance Art of Korea 1967 - 2007 will also be left in the form of a catalogue. The exhibition and the catalogue will hopefully serve as important resources that bear witness to the traces of performance art history in Korea.
1967-1979: From Happenings to Events
Happenings in the late 1960s were essentially a pioneering gesture to fight the oppressive political situation in Korea at the time. However, initially, happenings were received as decadent and self-indulgent by the government, and met with cynicism and indifference from the society.
As the political and social atmosphere darkened in the 1970s, performance art thrived in its new found expression of depicting the world around it. Performance art at the time started to enforce its logical and conceptual nature, deepening its extremely refined and private world.
This exhibition sheds light on happenings that have never previously received attention in the history of performance art. In celebration of its 100th issue in 1975, SPACE magazine held a festival of painting, music and dance, called 'Space 75.' During this festival many Korean artists broke new barriers in the performance art world. Hwang Byung-Gi and Hong Shin-Ja's Labyrinth for Gayageum and Personality was premiered in Myeongdong Art Theater, and became viewed as the most remarkable art performance in the history of Korean contemporary avant-garde art. Artist Kim Soon-Ki presented his play-art Time and Space, which showed the beauty of movement. Musician Kang Seok-Hee performed Three-Person Conversation, which broke down the walls between genres and turned the stage into an unforgettable transcendental moment.
1980-1993: Drama of Action
The political pressure that oppressed the Korean society in the 1970s intensified in its authority through the military regime of the 1980s. This was a very dramatic and intense time in which many Koreans resisted the new authority and artists expressed their dissatisfaction with the government. Art imitated life, and performance art became one of the most important mediums for expression in this period.
Performance art expressed memorials, funerals, and imprisonment of the body and mind, drawing analogy to the oppressive atmosphere and darkness of the period. The ability for performance art to peacefully imitate changes made it an important weapon against the military regime. Performance art of this period is characterized by its combination with similar disciplines, like literature, theater and dance.
In the 1990s, Korean society was slowly moving towards democratization, and we continue to see performance art represent the socio-political atmosphere of the time. Nam June Paik performed the 'Exorcism' to cherish the memory of Joseph boys (and artist and shaman), which won him a special place in the hearts of many Koreans.
Ha Young-Seok, a member of the 1980s performing group 'Nanjido,' presented several experimental and shocking projects, including an exhibition of an empty gallery without any art works, and bringing pigs into the gallery space. He also held a performance-installation trip using the whole country of Korea as a stage in winter in 1992, and introduced Korean performance art to New York's P.S.1 Gallery in the center of international art scene.
1994-2009: Performance - Variations
One of the characteristics of Korean society after mid-1990s is the frequent introduction of symbolic and metaphorical visual styles to express the opinions of Korean people. This reflects the maturation of Korean socio-cultural conditions, as well as the public understanding of visual language.
This period of Korean art saw the birth of a new inspired genre, coming from the amalgamation of several existing art forms. The performance art genre has now cross-bred harmoniously with all kinds of media art including photography and video. Indeed, most current media art has an aspect of performance art within it. It has become impossible to distinguish and separate these art forms from performance art. We create new categories of performance art, distinguishing physical and media, to clearly understand each medium.
This exhibition is not meant to define the notions and concepts of performance art; rather, it clarifies and showcases a branch of Korean contemporary art that hasn't been previously focused on. This exhibition hopes to remember remarkable moments in Korean performance art history, and prevent the disappearance of these moments.