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2021.07.07 Etc

Dynamic & Alive Korean Art

채지연 (홍보고객과) -02-3701-9675

Attached File [MMCA Press Release] Dynamic & Alive Korean Art.pdf  

The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA, Director Youn Bummo) presents DNA: Dynamic & Alive Korean Art, an exhibition that brings Korea’s historical and cultural assets and modern and contemporary art together to shed new light on Korean aesthetics, from Thursday, 8 July, through Sunday, 10 October 2021, at MMCA Deoksugung.


Beginning with the question, “What are Korean aesthetics?” the exhibition juxtaposes cultural assets from museums with artworks from galleries to identify the DNA of Korean aesthetics, which transcend time and space. Furthermore, with 10 Korean cultural assets representative of Korean aesthetics selected and studied by contemporary aestheticians such as Koh Yuseop, Choi Soonwoo, and Kim Yongjun, the exhibition aims to look at the significance and influence of tradition on Korea’s modern and contemporary art


The exhibition consists of four sections: “Sacred and Ideal (聖),” “Elegant and Simple (雅),” “Decorative and Worldly (俗),” and “Dynamic and Hybrid (和).” These four key phrases, each representing a central element of East Asian aesthetics, have served as a basis for how tradition is understood in East Asian modern and contemporary art.


The first section “Sacred and Ideal (聖)” explores how an idealistic notion of beauty from the Three Kingdoms Period to the Goryeo Dynasty has affected and been embodied in Korea’s modern and contemporary art. “Sacred (聖)” refers to the value of religious sanctity and sublimity. As a core element of East Asian aesthetics, this notion is largely reflected in religious art, exemplified by tomb murals from the Goguryeo Kingdom that illustrate a longing for an afterlife in a heavenly world and Seokguram Grotto, a hermitage from the Unified Silla Kingdom that reflects a belief in the Buddha and a desire for nirvana. Dou Meng, a calligrapher from China’s Tang Dynasty, described the highest level of art as “sacred (聖).” This remark can be applied to the perfect forms and colors of Goryeo celadon pottery, the elaborate decoration techniques and designs of which had a direct and indirect influence on artist Lee Jungsup and his work. Providing an opportunity to explore Goryeo celadon pottery and its development process, as well as identifying the simultaneous uniqueness and traditional beauty inherent in Lee Jungsup’s art, this section highlightsthe ability of artworks to shine on their own and reflect each other.


The second section “Elegant and Simple (雅)” focuses on Korean artists’ struggles to define Korean art through their interaction with the international art world and pursuit of Korean modernism in response to Western modernism after Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule. This section also looks at Korean expressionism and the beauty of “clumsiness” pursued in the context of “atypical” beauty. “Elegant and simple (雅)” means “clear, right, and graceful” and conveys a non-secular aesthetic taste associated with nobility. The products of the pursuit of simple elegance include “true-view” landscape paintings by Jeong Seon, who painted natural landscapes by observing (and assimilating with) them in person, and paintings by Kim Jeonghui, who aimed to depict thought intellectually. The phrase “elegant and simple (雅)” is, in a way, connected to the formativeness of purity or “nothing,” which can be expanded to the “imperfectness” and “non-formativeness” of plain white moon jars. Additionally, the way these paintings and white porcelain jars established a viewpoint on tradition deserves a spotlight in that it led to the craze for Dansaekhwa, Korea’s monochrome abstract paintings, and the discourse on the color white that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s.


The third section “Decorative and Worldly (俗)” examines decorative beauty, which pursued strong, expressionist aesthetics in reaction to Western art and the mainstream art of the Joseon Dynasty and Korea’s modern and contemporary eras. Referring to popular and conventional art, the phrase “decorative and worldly (俗)” denotes artistic and literary tastes that can be accepted by anyone. This element is well reflected in genre paintings, portraits of beautiful subjects, and folk paintings from the Joseon Dynasty. This section traces how Kim Hong-do’s genre paintings and Sin Yunbok’s portraits of beautiful subjects came to represent Korean art and be internalized by Korea’s modern and contemporary artists, influencing their artwork. The phrase “decorative and worldly” is also connected to the Buddhist paintings of the Joseon 3 Dynasty, which aimed to bring Buddhism to the public. Gamnodo and siwangdo, types of Joseon-era Buddhist paintings that reflect the harshness of life at the time, led to the Minjung art of the 1980s and the later popularity of strongly colored paintings.


The last section “Dynamic and Hybrid (和)” emphasizes shifting perspectives on Korean aesthetics, starting in the 1990s, when a wide variety of coexisting values and beauty standards experienced dynamic changes in the transition to postmodernism. The phrase “dynamic and hybrid (和)” refers to an amicable reconciliation between two opposing sides. In traditional East Asian aesthetics, this does not mean that one side overpowers the other, but that both sides reach unity through harmony and respect for their mutual differences. This phrase proposes that ancient cultural assets and contemporary art, seemingly incompatible and pulling in different directions, can make each other shine. This section’s artworks, inspired by a gold crown from the Silla Kingdom (National Treasure No. 339) demonstrate how tradition is contained in the tides of contemporary art. The past and present of Korean art live together in harmony in these four key concepts (聖, 雅, 俗, 和) representative of Korean aesthetics, which continue to transcend time and space. 


Along with the exhibition, a 650-page catalogue will be published, collecting studies focusing on Korea’s 10 representative cultural assets by 44 researchers of traditional, modern, and contemporary art. The catalogue aims to recontextualize Korean art through 48 columns and critiques that closely look at the process by which tradition is created and how modern and contemporary art react to it.


Youn Bummo, the director of MMCA, notes, “This exhibition is unique in that national treasures and contemporary artworks are on display together. I hope that visitors enjoy the wide variety of Korean artworks on display and are able to feel the past and present of Korean art, which are both still dynamic and alive.” 


□ For general inquiries, please call +82-2188-6000 (MMCA Deoksugung).