The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA, Director Youn Bummo)
presents its first feature exhibition of the year, Encounters Between Korean Art and Literature in the
Modern Age, from 4 February through 30 May 2021, at MMCA Deoksugung.
In Korean history, the Japanese colonial period (1910–1945) has generally been viewed as an era of darkness
and despair. As such, any attempt to examine the events of this time period are subject to preconceived
notions of anger and aversion, like reliving a painful wound.
Under colonial rule, of course, the people of Korea were continuously shackled by many contradictory social
structures. But even so, this era was a period of profound transformation, during which time the traditional
society of the past collided with the modern society of the present, with new cultures and technologies being
accepted, absorbed, or repelled with unimaginable speed. In particular, young Koreans became fascinated by
a rapid surge of new ideas, philosophies, knowledge, and culture from the West.
This exhibition shares the stories of artists and writers who devoted themselves to art and literature during
this paradoxical era, focusing primarily on life in colonial Seoul (then known as Gyeongseong) in the 1930s
and 40s. These cultural figures were free spirits who gathered in cafes and bars, condemned the absurdities
of reality, promoted their own perception of a new era, and advocated the new avant-garde of knowledge,
much like the École de Paris in France. Despite the overlying social contradictions and confusion, these
artists and writers became a driving force, forming a deep solidarity as they cleared their own path through
their shared belief in the abiding value of literature and art.
This exhibition is composed of four parts: “Confluence of the Avant-garde;” “A Museum Built from
Paper;” “Fellowship of Artists and Writers in the Modern Age;” and “Writings and Paintings by
In Part I, the exhibition delves into Gyeongseong in the 1930s, inviting us to visit Coffeehouse Jebi, run by
the poet Yi Sang, which became the center for a new network of young artists dedicated to experimental
projects traversing genres and fields. Through the works and activities of Yi Sang, Park Taewon, Kim Gi-rim,
Gu Bon-ung, and Gil Jinseop, the exhibition shows how the new Korean avant-garde erased the boundary
between literature and art, as well as music and film, in new cultural products unlike anything that had ever
been seen before.
The entire space of Gallery II is dedicated to achievements in visual art in print media from the 1920s
through the 1940s, when the editorial offices of newspapers and magazines served as a vital social system
bringing writers and artists together. Taking us inside these offices, this section sheds new light on the
illustrators of serial stories from newspapers, which had a tremendous influence on the public at the time,
while also introducing the beautiful world of “hwamun(畵文),” illustrated writings created through
collaborations between poets and illustrators. Highlighting the displays are gorgeous books from the modern
era, which embody the advanced intellectual and aesthetic talents of writers and artists.
Part III looks into the fruitful partnerships between specific writers and artists, such as Jeong Jiyong &
Chang Pal, Kim Gi-rim & Lee Yeoseong, and Lee Taejun & Kim Yongjun, as well as the multi-faceted
relationships (sometimes spanning multiple generations) among major figures such as Kim Gwang-gyun, Oh
Jang-hwan, Choi Jaideok, Lee Qoede, Lee Jungseop, Ku Sang, Kim Whanki, and Jo Byeonghwa. Visualizing
these special relationships in three dimensions, the featured works reveal how these brilliant individuals
helped one another reach new creative heights by sharing their talents and ideas.
Finally, Part IV explores the underappreciated literary talents of master painters, such as Kim Yongjun,
Chang Ucchin, Han Mook, Park Kosuk, Chun Kyungja, and Kim Whanki. Featuring both paintings and
writings, the displays use various media to elucidate the goals and ideas of these representative modern
Youn Bummo, director of the MMCA, notes, “This exhibition was developed to excavate and introduce the
priceless legacies left by the modern artists and writers who challenged the times with their visions for a new
era. The exhibition invites audiences into a new world as envisioned by the featured artists and writers, who
lived lives rich with unprecedented intellectual affluence even during a time marked by poverty and
□ For general enquiries, please call +82-2022-0600 (MMCA Deoksugung)