Beyond the melodrama

Cultured like Kimchi with well selected artist

Many Singaporeans will probably be able to name at least one Korean Drama or singer that they know from watching television. But name one Korean artist?

Korean Art

The Singapore Art Museum, plies a well selected contemporary Korean art blockbuster (in conjunction with the Korean Festival in Singapore), in tandem with the successful mind/eye opening  Daimler Is It Tomorrow Yet?. These 40 works by 12 artists aptly addressing the transition from modernity to the contemporary issues in art, the exhibition was a visual feast of abstraction, illustrative to modular works, often addressing the materiality of the creations. The transcendence suggested by the title of the exhibition implies that of the ‘unique aesthetics and sensibilities of Korean art’, transcending traditional ink painting (into installation and new media). 4 works are discussed here, to illustrate the elusive ‘sensibility’. This sensibility might just have shaped what we find intriguing in melodramatic Korean TV series – the fate/history, weather/landscape, people and language that shapes a culture.

Park Seo Bo’s Ecriture No. 080728, has the similarity with Jackson Pollock’s or Wassily Kandinsky’s method of naming their works in series of numbers, bearing the minimalistic dabs of paint which Kasimir Malevich would have agreed with. Echoing the interests of Josef Albers in the Daimler collection, The work seems to find peace in the balance but asymmetric compositions; the exploration of colours here, seem to resonate under gallery lighting conditions. Do the colours in Seo Bo’s paintings bear semblance to the colours of the Korean flag, and its heritage to the lived dynasties? The simplicity of colours and composition, suggests the process – the meditation, emptying of the self required to produce the painting, and others.

Lee Lee Nam’s animated paintings, resemble computer screensavers, a  juxtaposition of  Impressionist’s best Impression (Sun Rise) by Monet, to impressionistic Korean traditional ink painting of a night scenery, littered with lights from the high-rise skyline. The wall text suggests that the work ‘subverts the traditional classic notions of high art and used technology to bridge high art with popular culture/imagery”.  Similar to Pop art, the work amuses when one can identify the solitary boat from Monet’s Sunrise painting, ‘moving’ from one screen to the other. Kitsch-ness or tackiness aside, the work does echo the forlorn hope for the Sublime in nature, gradually replaced by a new sublime, overwhelmed by skyscrapers and multitudes of technologies – how they work, why they work, we fail to comprehend. This is evident in the duo plasma screens, transition of the traditional ink snow scene ‘painting’, slowly morphing into a modern seaport night scene.

 Hong Kyoung Tack’s Pencil 2, a massive painting measuring 3.88x390cm records a hyper saturation of colours in an over-dosed composition of pencils, so much so they become a landscape seen from a distance. Interpreted as a critique of consumerism, or despair against blind obsessive consumption, the repetition of pencils resembles the repetitions needed to produce a singular traditional ink painting. One can imagine the same ’emptying of self’, placing total concentration on the choice of colours, brushstrokes, that the intent becomes less important than the process.

Suh Do Ho’s Floor (1997-2008),  possibly the most powerful work in the exhibition, consists of thousands of tiny PVC figurines holding up the floor is an impressive visual for a meaning of power – literally stepping of thousands. An earlier version installed at the Venice Biennale in 1999, allowed the viewer to step on these glass panels. Evoking the masses, and possible a national psyche of togetherness, ‘all for one and one for all’, the work might suggest a certain critique of socialist North Korea, or in the light of the global economic crisis, we are one of many supporting the invisible men who threads on others.  

I am reminded of the process of making Kimchi, a traditional Korean dish made of fermented vegetables and varied seasoning including chili peppers. The subject matter engaged by Korean artists are perhaps the ‘uniqueness’ the curators wanted to illustrate. These subject matter, coupled well with the sensibility of the Sublime, suggested by many of the works. The sublime here refers to the sense of being overwhelmed by language/comprehension of culture, nature/landscape, and forces of economies/consumerism. This exhibition illustrates well, the fermentation of subject matters popular in art, by picking a palatable range of works from the past 50 years. 

7.0 of 10 stars

Transcendence: Modernity and Beyond in Korean Art
Singapore Art Museum
08 November 2008 to 15 March 2009 

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