MMCA, along with several other cultural institutions of high-standing, are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of WW2 as well as the 70th anniversary of Korean independence. While joyous in moments, these exhibitions serve mostly as a reflection of contemporary approaches to understanding everything that has happened in those past 70 years.
In addressing everything that has followed, MMCA has on view a 3-part exhibition entitled Commemorative Exhibition of the 70th Anniversary of Liberation: the Great Journey with the Citizens Uproarious, Heated, Inundated. Part 1 (Uproarious) deals with what happened precisely after that joyous moment which were the horrors of the Korean War, part 2 (Heated) deals with its aftermath, and part 3 (Inundated) deals with the long standing consequences of having a nation ripped in two and how it reverberates in the uncertainly of rapid economic expansion and it’s unsustainability.
Overall I really enjoyed all three exhibitions, they were introspective and revealing of intimate perspectives I, as a westerner, do not often come across when broaching the topic of the Korean War. I will say, frankly, that I believe there has been enough written about western views on what happened and what would really be more valuable in global discourse would be more internationally validated Korean perspectives. The idea that anyone would have a respectable opinion about an event they not only did not experience but only learned of through skewed canonization is absurd and irresponsible. For that reason I will not discuss Uproarious and Heated other than to say they affected me deeply.
While Uproarious and Heated were very straightforward in their chronology and concept, I found Inundated, perhaps possibly tangentially related, but rather off-topic. Much of the art in this part of the exhibition deal with cultural issues that may have affected Korea, but are distinctly American or address issues rooted there. I think any work examining cultural superficiality and overconsumption are never more relevant than they are today, and I felt that Inundated could have very well stood on its own as a separate exhibition. It was colorful, interactive, and had work that was scaled impressively and work with a sense of humor; I simply had a difficult time understanding its relationship to Uproarious and Heated.
Inundated contained work from the 60’s all to the way to work created as recently as this year; and while some of the work was a bit older it felt never more contemporary thanks to excellent curatorial direction. Some notably eye-catching works include:
Flowers of Tomorrow 2015 Choi, Jeong-hwa
Pieces that consider both sculpture and installation “Flowers of Tomorrow” addresses how overconsumption is destroying natural majesty and confronts the inevitable future if we refuse to rise to meet these demands. The works took up two spaces in the exhibition, an installation of bronze-cast potted plants, and an installation of neon-yellow cast plants. The choice of scale, color, and arrangement brought to mind indoor floral displays that talk of their own artificiality.
Drawing ‘Yellow Scream’ 2012 Kim, Beom
This video piece contained the artist teaching the viewer to paint in a friendly and non-intimidating tone reminiscent of Bob Ross. Instead of painting sublime landscapes, Kim Beom chose to paint a ‘Yellow Scream.’ By applying different hues of yellow paint in short, straight brushstrokes, he altered the emotionality and the pitch of the scream coming from the canvas in front of him. This piece noticeably sent viewers into fits of giggles, not sure if they should take the piece at face value or realize its absurdity.
- Your Bright Future (2002) Bahc, Yi-so
The installation was made up of what looked like artist lamps or spotlights attached to a large wooden jig facing an empty expanse of wall. The piece is addressing sensationalized promises of a perfect tomorrow fed to us by campaigning politicians, yet the reality is empty and hollow. It is in its most base form of the word ‘bright’ and illuminates absolutely nothing.
- 20 TV Monitors, 2 VHS/DVD Players (1988) Nam June Paik
As a new media artist, Nam June Paik is always an artist I look to for inspiration. He conceived of work of a new sort of timelessness that deals with the contemporary struggle of man and machine. That being said, I sometimes find MMCA’s exhibiting of Nam June Paik to be a bit gratuitous, attempting to place his work in every large scale exhibition regardless of relevance. However, if there is any exhibition for his work, it is definitely one addressing increasing cultural superficiality and how we relate to technology.
- CNN (2007) Zin, Ki-jong
I found this piece to be really interesting, but it does substantiate my point about work dealing with issues uniquely American. In a kinetic installation that provided footage to several cameras that fed into monitors on another side of the wall, the work discusses the sensationalizing and disproportionate air-time afforded to violent crime on American news stations. The piece was poignant and well-executed, as well as satirizing the construction of such news stories.
- Funkchestra (2001-2005) Hong, Kyoung-tack
Large scale paintings arranged in a grid towered over while simultaneously assaulted the viewer with an oversaturated plethora of four-letter words ranging from religious affiliations to sexual provocations. The paintings were beautifully executed and painted in a style reminiscent of funk graphics from a previous era. The piece owes its success to its scale and overwhelming (both controversial and saccharine) visuals.
Reproduction (2010) Hwang, Gyu-tae
The scale of this piece was incredibly impressive, and it provided for an immersive visual experience. The image was of a woman seemingly copy-and-pasted over and over which lead to visual distortions in her form. I felt that this piece addressed overpopulation in the face of declining national birth-rates, while concurrently talking about the organic spread of ideas (both tangible and digital.) Conceptually and formally I really enjoyed this piece.
- Learning American II (1992) Bahc, Yi-so
In a grainy video piece, obviously originating on vhs, the viewer is taught cultural cues, ideas, and issues distinctly of the American variety. In a fun and light-hearted video learning experience, we are taught everything from American material ideals to phrases one would expect to use more often than they really would like “Please don’t rob me!” It talks about stereotypes as well as real cultural issues one faces upon adapting to life in America and it’s packaged as a language learning video, something once very fashionable.
In an exhibition suggestive of Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi, Inundated was impressive for its relevance, scale, and curating and I sincerely enjoyed the experience. While being only a part of a larger narrative discussing Korean history from the past 70 years, I really felt it stood on its own and would have liked to experience it as a separate exhibition entirely. The full exhibition will run until October 11th, and I highly recommend making some time to see it before it’s dismantled. You can find more information here