The Coexistence of Globalism and Nationalism
by Kyung Yoon Ho(Art Journalist)
translated by Jina Kim
It will be almost 70 years since the Republic of Korea established its government as a nation-state after achieving independence. Then, since when did the art of ‘Korea’ expand overseas? According to records, the Korean sculptor Kim Chongyung(1915~1982) being recognized in London at the Tate Gallery's international competition to create a <Monument to the Unknown Political Prisoner> in 1953 was the first time. Afterwards artists, such as Kim Heungsou and Nam Kwan participated in overseas exhibitions individually. However the first exhibition organized to introduce Korean art was <Contemporary Korean Painting> held with the help of Professor Ellen Psaty of Georgia University in February of 1958. The works of 36 artists were shown including artists Ko Hui-dong, Park Su-geun and Park Seo-bo. Then from the 1960s to the 1980s, centering the Korean Fine Arts Association which had the most impact in the Korean art scene at that time, overseas expansion gradually progressed in a private level by taking actions such as choosing participating artists for the Paris Biennale, Sao Paulo Biennale, and Triennale-India. However the real watershed moment in the international exchange of Korean art was from the mid 1980s. The industrialization achieved since the 1970s that lead to rapid economic development was also a grand foundation. When considering the fact that the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art opened its doors in Gwacheon one month before the opening of the Asian Games in 1986, you can fully conceive the atmosphere of the times. Also following the 1988 Seoul Olympics, international events such as the 1993 Daejeon Expo were consecutively held, and the desire to enter the international society became bigger.
Especially the year 1995 when both the Korean Pavilion of the Venice Biennale and the Gwangju Biennale were established, was the starting point for many changes. Also the Pusan Biennale(PICAF, Pusan Contemporary Art Festival) and Mediacity Seoul were consecutively established in 1998 and 2000. The 'Three Koreans Biennales' were finally formed. Meanwhile biennales became structuralized as a sort of 'industry', and specialized as a new institution that greatly affects the environment and system of the art world. Regarding the foreigners concerned visiting Korea, recently Korean biennales have the tendency of opening all at once in September of every odd-numbered year. Afterwards owing to the revival of the cultural industry of the local government, from the Geumgang Nature Art Biennale, Daegu Photo Biennale, Incheon Women Artist's Biennale to Project Daejon founded in 2012, a biennale was established in every major city in Korea. The differentiation strategy of the biennales is that they particularly center on 'genre'. The biennales are mostly held in secondary cities rather than the capital, and the reason is that they were established as a part of local cultural marketing in each of the cities after local autonomy was adopted. When expanding this symptom to a national scale from a local scale, for similar reasons most of the biennales established in the recent 20 years are in developing countries such as Asia. Local biennales, other than the Gwangju Biennale and Pusan Biennale which covers the whole contemporary art, were established mostly by having the characteristic of empowering 'genres' such as media(Seoul), photography(Daegu), pottery(Icheon), and nature art(Geumgang). It is an alternative to continuously producing large-scale exhibitions packed with similar artists and similar works. In these constraints, the history of Korean biennales have passed 20 years.
Through Korean biennales, if many foreign art people visited Korea and got to acknowledge Korean art, on the contrary it is needed to actively hold exhibitions of Korean art overseas. Exhibitions that compactly introduce the flow and tendency of Korean contemporary art were held such as <Across the Pacific>(Queens Museum, 1993), <Facing Korea>(De Appel, 2003)>, <Elastic Taboos>(Kunsthalle Wien, 2007), <Peppermint Candy>(Santiago Museum of Contemporary Art, 2007-2008), <Your Bright Future>(Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2009-2010), <Korean Eye>(Saatchi Gallery, 2009) etc. In the 2000s, having overseas residencies etc. as foundations, artists and curators working internationally have increased. Even a national car industry went into a partnership with a leading art museum abroad to support it for 10 years. There are various ways to go abroad from Korea, and on the contrary the intensification of bilateral exchange in inviting the foreign to Korea in a global society like today is an obvious fact. However when thinking about the circumstances of the past when traveling to other countries was not common, I want to take a look at the Korean Pavillion of the Venice Biennale as a specific example of how the globalization of Korean art was possible due to strategical will.
In fact the first time Korea participated in the Venice Biennale was in 1986, not 1995 when the Korean Pavilion opened. At that time Korea did not have an independent space of its own. Korea received a part of the Italian Pavilion(wall width 20m), and until 1993 Korea participated three times. As usual the Korean Fine Arts Association was the one to choose the commissioner and artist to participate in the Venice Biennale, and received 8 million won from the Arts Council Korea. Participating artists and commissioners are as follows. In the 42nd(1986) artists Ha Dong Chul, Ko Young Hoon and commissioner Lee Il, in the 43rd(1988) artists Park Seo Bo, Kim Kwan Soo and commissioner Ha Chong-hyun, in the 44th(1990) artists Hong Myung-seop, Cho Sungmook and commissioner Lee Seung-taek, and in the 45th(1993) artists Ha Chong-hyun and commissioner Seo Seungwon participated. As an example, in the case of 1993, the artist and commissioner carried the paintings themselves and arrived two days before the opening. They received the help from Korean students studying in Italy and until the day of the opening they did the paint job and bought lightings and finished just in time. This installation process shows how Korea was not sufficient.
Until the Korean Pavilion opened in Giardini in 1995, the most important figure who made an impact was video artist Nam June Paik. Nam June Paik was the participating artist of the German Pavilion of the 1993 Venice Biennale, and as the German Pavilion received the Golden Lion, Nam June Paik acted out with the momentum. On the night of the reception on the day he received the Golden Lion Award, there were many Korean artists as well as the wives of leading companies attending, and they all motioned to build the Korean Pavilion in one voice. Nam returned to Korea and met the President. He explained that building the Korean Pavilion at the Venice Biennale would be the definite opportunity to enhance the international status of Korean art, and the President agreed so he ordered the Secretary of the Ministry of Culture and Sports to push forward with the plan. Also as the exhibition for the Daejon Expo opened, the Director of the Venice Biennale Achille Bonito Oliva and the Director of the Mudima Foundation Gino Di Maggio in Milan were invited to Seoul and a luncheon was held presided by ministers to present Korea's will and ask for cooperation. However it was difficult than expected to build a building in Venice where the whole city is a cultural property. So Nam June Paik sent a picture letter to Massimo Cacciari, the Mayor of Venice at that time. "It is your chance to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Next year, when it is the 100th anniversary of the Venice Biennale, what a historical event it would be if South Korea and North Korea, the only divided nations due to ideological conflicts, would participate together and solve nuclear problems in a cultural manner" was what Paik said.
What was the reason to build a national pavilion at the Venice Biennale to this extent. Although the size of the building for the Korean Pavilion is as small as a gallery space, the symbolization and role was very big. Because all the important people of the art world gather at the Venice Biennale. The Venice Biennale has a long history of 120 years and is the core of the network of the art of today. In the overseas expansion of Korean art, through the Korean Pavilion which is like a war base, many artists and curators of Korea could contrive a foothold for takeoff. However at the art battlefield Venice, 'money' that acted as bullets were blown violently. Not only Korea but in 2017 the organizations preparing for 85 national pavilions are all pouring in their budget under the good attention of 'globalization of art'. The government budget for the exhibition of the Korean Pavilion is about 450 million won, but every year Korea is preparing the exhibition with funding from external institutions.
Under the impact of globalism, post-colonialism theories are evolving and the limits of art history centering on Western countries are confronted, emphasizing the independent approach of understanding regional distinctiveness. The attempt to define the new discourses surrounding the art of today and produce artworks responding to the flow of globalization is happening frequently. However there are lot of cases of missing the practical perception. I do not mean to be critical towards capitalism, but to sincerely view the problems of the system and budget necessary to physically present an ‘exhibtion’. In general, systems are the accumulation of the history and social standards of each country, and budgets demand definite purpose and achievements. International exchange support systems organized by the government have various types such as holding exhibition or doing scholarly research, but have the consistent mission of enhancing the international status of the national art and contribute to the revival of it. It is often witnessed of how the freedom of art is tied up due to its connection with the support policy of each government in the world of international art.
After globalization, it may be anachronistic of how the Venice Biennale is still maintaining the system of national pavilions but if you think about it again, due to the budget drawn from each government and the tourism revenue from foreign tourists the Venice Biennale was able to achieve its current scale and maintain its title of the ‘best biennale’. Also most national pavilions receive government support, so it is impossible to avoid showing national prestige in sending out the ‘participants’ representing the art of each country. Also the organizers and artists that can be seen as the subjects of the exhibition cannot be free from this frame. If you were the commissioner or curator of a national pavilion of the Venice Biennale what theme would you choose? Also if you are the participating artist representing your country would you put forward your creativity by presenting an artwork revealing the locality or stand shoulder to shoulder with other artists using artistic manners accepted internationally? These concerns apply to most of the Asian countries existing outside of modernity. Gennifer Weisenfield pointed out that in the art world where the globalization phenomenon is highlighted, especially in the case of Asia, traditional rhetorical development is used to commodify cultural differences and even as paradoxical post-modern criticism.
Nationalism did not only exist in 19th century modern society, when the 19th century World Fair or the Olympics took place, but still coexists with the globalism of today. It even achieves a curious coexistence synergy. This contradictory phenomenon is amplified in how anthropologist Arjun Appadurai explained globalism as “an imaginary landscape constituted of historical, linguistical, political situations of various roles, in other words nation states, people with dual citizenships, immigration communities, entities and movements under nations”. Where is the escape route in the labyrinth of the complicated cultural politics named contemporary art?
Ho Kyung Yun
art journalist. She graduated from Dongduk Women's University with a curatorial degree and completed
a specialization in art theory at the Korean National University of Arts. He has been editor of the monthly Art In Culture magazine and commissioner of the Korean Biennale 2013 Venice Biennale. Currently, he teaches
at the Fine Art Department of Kaywon Arts University and is preparing for the <Lotus Land> exhibition to be held at the Gwangju Asian Cultural Complex in April. Based on the cultural production structure that can be expanded and sustained, a new type of art system is being sought. Sayho11@gmail.com
Jina Kim is working in the field of art, and still have a lot to learn.
Illustrator。 Sunsook Kim
SunSook Kim is an internationally well known painter living in Pen ylvania. She wishes to isnpire hope through her art. email@example.com