To be sold or destroyed
By Noh Hyun-gi
Post-impressionism master Vincent Van Gogh sold but one painting, “The Red Vinyard,” during his lifetime, near his death. Pursuing art is not a glorious path, especially in Korea where art collecting is at a budding stage.
A group of 19 artists and three curators are making a passive-aggressive statement through “Zerglinttae _ Operation: Can’t Wait Any Longer” at Insa Art Space, Wonseo-dong, Seoul. At the end of this exhibition on Feb. 25, all unsold works will be destroyed on the spot by their creators. The process will be filmed and posted online.
The participants are in Arko Art Center’s professional cultivation program for rising artists. At a press conference on Monday, Kim Ah-mi, one of the curators, explained, “During the program, we discussed the reality of life of artists in depth and wanted to articulate our opinions through this exhibit.”
No one is shy to talk about money here; visitors are given a layout of the three-floor gallery with prices of all 72 pieces which ranges from 1,000 to 3,000,000 won. The diversified collection includes oil, photography, and iron engraving. Buyers can immediately take the works off the wall upon purchase. Kim added, “It would be a dream-come-true if all the works are taken and we are left with white walls.”
While it is a noble endeavor, the purpose of the event skews the viewing experience; one can’t help but wonder whether the pieces will sell or not. Here are some that might get snatched up.
“Light, Cut Myself” and “The Alter of Light-Chandelier” by Jo Hyun-ik are a magical sight. “Light” is an iron plate etching of a female nude. The graceful woman with her long hair looks like she is under water. The blown backdrop of corroded iron gives it a sense of timelessness. “The Alter” is a revolving iron candle holder with an opening. It hangs across “Light” and during the few seconds that the opening faces the plate, “Light” illuminates and after that moment, one still can’t stop staring at the muse under the dim light. Dong Do-jun, another curator, explained Jo’s choice of medium and subject: “The artist’s father was a blacksmith _ watching him at work, Jo came to equate metal work with masculinity. By engraving a lustful figure, he is projecting a desire through his practice of masculinity.”
Rhee Chi Bin is one of a few defector artists. Three oil paintings titled “PPG 01,” “PPG07,”and “PPG09” show images of North Korean women (characterized by their clothing and hair) partly covered with neon colors and fluid shapes, much like someone had graffitied over the images. Rhee fled North Korea in 1994 with her parents. She recalls bodyguards shadowing her parents who were high ranking officials in Pyeongyang. She started painting when she moved to the United States.
Bora Lee’s “Bora201201” is an installation that decorates the entrance of the second floor. Knitting black polyester yarn over a wire structure, Lee has built what appears to be a humongous black tree that steams from the floor and branches out across the ceiling. The artist explained that the message behind this work is simple: “I was thinking about all the waiting and loss over relationships. How I would knit as I wait for a lover to look my way, come back to me, or for me to get over him.”