Choi Ho-chul, Euljiro Circular Railway (2000) / Courtesy of National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Seoul
By Kwon Mee-yoo
A latest exhibition at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Seoul (MMCA Seoul) is seeking to answer a tricky question — what is the beauty of Korea?
"Korean Beauty: Two Kinds of Nature" sheds light on distinct characteristics of Korea. The definition of Korean beauty is usually limited to traditional art such as porcelain and Buddhist statues, but this exhibit aims to extend the boundary to modern and contemporary art.
"Nature influences all artists across the world, but each country has different characteristic," said MMCA curator Lee Chu-young. "Nature is the most comprehensive theme that can represent uniqueness and beauty of Korea." The exhibit is organized in two parts — "Resonance" on the upper floor and "Harmony" downstairs.
The first part embodies nature as the origin and presents artworks that shows beauty of space through in extreme simplicity. The works are classified based on basic units of dot, line and face and represent nature in a rather abstract, concise way.
Kwak In-sik, a pioneer in Korean monochrome art, interprets Korean nature in dots. Lee U-fan's works "Correspondence" and "East Wind" series might look like simple lines, but Lee puts principles of life into it.
Moon jar, Korean tradition round-shaped white porcelain, inspired Koo Bohn-chang's photography series "Vessel" and modern pottery works such as Kim Yik-yung's "Asymmetrical Vessels." Choi Byung-hoon's "Afterimage of Beginning" sculpture series turned a brush stroke into rock of eternity. The curator surrounded the sculpture with benches to resemble Korean traditional pavilion, where ancestors sit and looked around Mother Nature.
The exhibit design accentuates the unique architecture of the MMCA Seoul by putting the right artworks in the right place. The two galleries are connected with a narrow staircase and Lee allocated the dimly-lit space to Choi Ki-chang's "The Half Moon," a moon-shaped installation that reminds viewers that they only see one side of the moon.
The highlight of the exhibit is the 13-meter-high space with natural lighting which can be seen from both floors of the gallery. The curator Lee placed photographic works of sky, earth and sea in the space. Realistic paintings of cloud by Kang Un is placed on the highest part of the gallery, while Bae Bien-u's photos of rocks are placed on the floor. This unique arrangement makes the viewers as if they are at a forest. The exhibit continues to "Harmony" section, where Shin Hyun-jung's sculptures "For Horned Ungulate" greet the viewers. The seven sculptures of horse, sheep and cow refer to the importance of these animals, especially cow, which are more than just livestock in the life of Koreans.
More works feature people on this section, such as Keem Sang-woo's "Generation." Choi Ho-chul's "Euljiro Circular Railway" shows a slice of ordianry urban life packed with crowds.
"Korean Beauty" runs through Sept. 28. Admission is 4,000 won for all exhibitions at MMCA Seoul. For more information, visit www.mmca.go.kr or call (02) 3701-9500.