American art: 300 years young
Seoul exhibition highlights innovative works of US artists
By Kwon Mee-yoo
It would be hard to say that the average Korean is well versed in American art. Sure, contemporary icons like Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol will come up in conversation but it’s rare that anyone would be able to recognize the names of more than a few, pre-20th century American artists, let alone identify their work.
"Art Across America,’’ an exhibition by the National Museum of Korea (NMK) in Yongsan, Seoul, provides an invaluable opportunity for local art lovers to see some of the more innovative American works of the past 300 years.
The government-run museum has received pieces from four U.S. art institutions ― the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Terra Foundation for American Art ― to present what is arguably the greatest collection of American art to ever be displayed in Korea.
The pieces were carefully selected to represent the historical course and the evolvement of artistic trends in the U.S.
The earliest works of American art brought to Seoul mostly consisted of portraits, including those of famous individuals like George Washington and Native Americans, from the American colonial era.
The 18th century painter Charles Willson Peale's "Portrait of John and Elizabeth Lloyd Cadwalader and their Daughter Anne" (1722) provides a glimpse into the life of a wealthy family in Philadelphia during 18th-century America and is highlighted by the hairstyles, clothes and furniture.
One of the sections of the exhibition is titled ''American Landscapes ― East to West,’’ related to the westward expansion of the U.S. The paintings give a genuine expression of what Americans thought of the developed eastern part of the country, portrayed brightly in most paintings, and the undeveloped west, which inspired both excitement and fear of the unknown.
Also displayed in Seoul are some notable works portraying the Civil War period, highlighted by the paintings of Eastman Johnson and Thomas Eakins, and also some glamorous pieces of rococo-style furniture that were provided from the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.
The European movement of Impressionism had a profound influence on American artists during the 19th century. One of the outstanding works of American Impressionism is Mary Cassatt’s "Mother About to Wash her Sleepy Child” (1880), which visitors to the National Museum can see.
More familiar American artwork is featured in the exhibition’s last section, ''American Art After 1945.’’ Pollock's "No. 22" is one of his signature drip paintings distinguished by the energy it creates from the mixture of black, yellow and mint green. Influenced by surrealism, the artist brought his subconscious onto the canvas and created the unpredictable shapes by moving himself around the canvas.
Warhol's "Jackie (Four Jackies)" is also on display. The four silk screen printings of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis reflect thepopular culture and consumerism that defined America during the 1950s and ‘60s. Warhol fans should not miss the paw print left by the artist's cat when he was producing the piece.
Michael Govan, head of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), picks Robert Irwin's "Untitled" as the must-see piece of the current exhibition. The installment could be simply described as a white disk suspended in air, but Govan believes the work maximizes the essence of light, color and shape.
LACMA has also introduced an interesting selection of American furniture, focusing on Californian design after World War II. Charles and Ray Eames' chairs and a table exude the simple yet elegant beauty of mass-produced furniture.
"Art Across America" is a part of exchanges between Korea and the U.S. and an exhibition dedicated to Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) paintings from the NMK will tour America in 2014.
The exhibit runs through May 19 at the NMK and then will travel to the Daejeon Museum of Art from June 18 to Sept. 1. Admission is 12,000 won for adults, 10,000 won for middle and high school students and 8,000 won for elementary school students.
For more information, visit www.artacrossamerica2013.com or call 1661-2440.