Tuesday, July 11, 2023

MMCA Exhibition on "Experimental Art in Korea, 1960s-1970s"

 The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul (next to Gyeongbok Palace) has an exhibit - until next Sunday, July 16 - titled "Only the Young: Experimental Art in Korea, 1960s-1970s" which is well worth a look. The Fourth Group (제4집단) was a mainstay of the weekly magazines in 1969-70 as they organized all kinds of 'happenings,' so it was fun to see some of their artworks, or preserved pamphlets, up close. (The Korea Times has an article on the exhibit, along with photos of some of the works, here.)

Two notes: The museum is open until 9 pm on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and after 6pm entry is free (though the exhibit is only 2,000 won), and I'll have to go back since there's a whole second room (the part I went to was spread over two floors) that I missed.

Also worth noting is that I found it fascinating that - as he notes in this interview - Kim Ku-rim could find little information about avant garde art in Seoul in the 1960s... until he stumbled upon Life and Time magazines in a bookstore that had come from Yongsan Garrison. I imagine at least some in Korea's authoritarian government found the cultural influence of the US military presence to be a nuisance at times.

At some point I'll likely put up translations of some of the articles about these artists from the 1968 - 70 newspaper weeklies. For now, here are some photos not in the exhibit, from the June 17, 1970 issue of Weekly Woman (주간여성), which show members of the Fourth Group at the exhibition organized by the Hankook Ilbo at Gyeongbok Palace abstractly "painting" the ceiling with balloons:

[It] is the work of avant-garde artist Jeong Chan-seung (29, Hongik University grad), a self-proclaimed heretic of the Korean painting scene, and is titled "Neutral Space." It is said that it is an attempt to abandon the conventional painting tools, which have limitations for aesthetic expression, and use a more expressive object (balloons) and expanded space (the ceiling) as a canvas.

Oddly, a week later the same magazine showed photos of the other exhibits there - some of which are visible above (particularly the sculpture in the third photo) - but there's no sign of the balloons. Were those photos taken earlier, and if not, had the balloons fallen down, or were they removed? It's hard to know...