An exhibition of 17 works by nine of Korea’s contemporary artists was recently presented in Moscow, Russia. While introducing a somewhat lesser known aspect of Korean culture, the dynamism and creativity of the displayed works left a favorable impression on Russian viewers, who highly praised the contemporary art of Korea.
The organization of an art exhibition can be a lengthy and challenging process. Well before my arrival in Moscow, to serve as the director of the Korea Foundation Moscow Office, Seoul National University Professor Kim Young-na, the chief curator of the exhibition, had already visited Moscow to decide on a venue and concept for the exhibition. Earlier this year, at the invitation of the Foundation, Masut Fatkulin, the chairman of the Executive Committee of the International Confederation of Unions of Artists (ICUA), and a curator from Russia, visited Korea to discuss effective ways to introduce Korea’s contemporary art to people in Russia.
Since the exhibition was intended to reveal the vibrancy of modern Korean society, efforts were taken to identify the artists and their works that expressed Korea’s relations with nature, the environment, and technology, along with showing how people adapted to this whirlwind of social change. As such, the exhibition came to be entitled “Contemporary Kaleidoscope, Art in Korea,” as a reflection of its goal to offer a kaleidoscopic view of life in Korea through its contemporary art. Differing Opinions
On an occasional basis, various Korean artists have previously held solo exhibitions or exhibitions under specific genres in Russia. Accordingly, the organizers sought to introduce works of Korean contemporary art related to a diversity of forms, such as painting, sculpture, photography, video art, and web art. The selection process, however, proved difficult. In particular, there were concerns that certain works might be too abstract to understand, and even result in a negative reaction from Russian audiences. Others were less worried about a possible controversy, based on a belief in artistic and cultural diversity, which strives for an open-mindedness toward the personal expressions and viewpoints of the individual artists.
In any case, it was agreed that more abstruse works would not be included in this exhibition, since it represented an introductory event for Korea’s contemporary art, as well as the initial exposure to such works on the part of Russian audiences. Still, differing views meant that various works came to be rejected after tentative approval, necessitating several adjustments to the venue layout and exhibition catalogue, causing concern that the project schedule could not be maintained; however, all loose end were finally resolved at the last minute. Successful Opening
In contrast to the organizational problems, the opening of the exhibition was a great success. The exhibition hall was overflowing with people, although invitations were extended mainly to members of the local artistic community, rather than the general public, due to the unfamiliar nature of Korea’scontemporary art, and to figures from Russian society, instead of Koreans residing in Russia or Korean-Russians. With a crowd of about 150 guests crammed into a hall that the organizers prepared to accommodate about 100, ICUA Executive Committee Chairman Masut Fatkulin and Korea Foundation Executive Vice President Kim Sung-yup delivered opening remarks, along with congratulatory messages from Korean Ambassador to Russia Lee Kyu-hyung and Russia’sInternational Center for Science and Cultural Cooperation President Mitrofanova. The opening activities also included a traditional gayageum performance and a reception.
The media showed keen interest in the rarity of this exhibition. As the first event to present a comprehensive introduction of contemporary Korean art in Russia, the Moscow correspondents of Korean media fully covered the reactions and impressions of Russia’s art specialists. Coverage by the Russian media was extensive as well, with leading newspapers carrying reports in feature articles, and video highlights of the opening ceremony by national TV broadcasters. Appreciative Viewers
The exhibition featured 17 diverse works by nine Korean artists, spanning a considerable range of age and experience. The works that attracted particular attention included “Bang Gyeomjae” Series by Hwang In-ki, adaptations of Jeong Seon’sInwangjesaekdo and Geumgangjeondo (landscape paintings of Mt. Inwang and Mt. Geumgang) using crystalline forms and Lego blocks; “Unshaken Room” by Ahn Kyu-chul, expressing the internal aspects of modern people with rectangular wooden forms; “Pao Pao Pao” by Chang Young-hae Heavy Industries, a web artist who has been earned growing international recognition; and “Tears” by Kim Si-yeon, who used salt to symbolize the torment of modern Korean women.
The Russian guests, after viewing the exhibition, expressed their surprise at the unique individuality and creativity of contemporary Korean art, along with showing much interest in the Korean artists. Especially, the installation artists from Korea who visited Moscow to install their works left a positive impression through their active exchange of opinions with Russian artists and journalists. As such, they are well-positioned to play a key role in the promotion of more active exchanges between the art sectors of Russia and Korea. Follow-up
Moscow is a city of culture and art, where you can enjoy world-class works of fine art as well as consummate performances of ballet and opera. In addition, it is a city with a thriving art market with art dealers doing business in all manner of markets and electronics arcades, where the works of young artists are bought and sold like regular commercial products, such as mobile phones or brand-name cosmetics.
The exhibition was highly significant in several regards. First, it provided an opportunity to evaluate the creativity and appeal of contemporary Korean art based on the reactions of viewers of Moscow, which maintains high standards of art and culture. It is also meaningful that the exhibition attracted the attention of Russia’s art sector, providing an opportunity to introduce Korea’supcoming contemporary artists to contacts in Russia.
Second, it served to accentuate Russia’s interest in Korea, with the exhibition’s opening coinciding with President Lee Myung-bak’s state visit to Russia. Third, it was the first exhibition of Korean art co-organized with the International Confederation of Unions of Artists, a central organization of the Russian art sector. In this sense, the event paved the way for closer cooperation between the culture and art sectors of our two countries.
Finally, it is my sincere hope that the exhibition will serve as a stepping stone – rather than just a one-time event – for regular cultural exchanges between Korea and Russia, based on an enhancement of mutual understanding and realization of the benefits of closer cooperative relations.