Located 140 kilometers (87 miles) from Seoul, Cheongju is usually not on the list of places that people seek out for a weekend full of art. But this autumn, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art(MMCA) Cheongju is hoping to change that. The museum has opened up a new fine art collection and put craftworks from their storage inventory on display in time for people to enjoy the 2019 Cheongju Craft Biennale, which is taking place in the museum’s front yard.
The MMCA Cheongju opened its doors in December 2018, becoming the fourth branch of the museum, with a focus on storage and conservation of the MMCA’s most treasured works. While the museum has been doing just that, their latest exhibition shifts their focus from pieces by classic and well-established artists to younger contemporary Korean artists who are working to build their own artistic world and philosophy.
《The Adventures of Korean Contemporary Painting: I Will Go Away All By Myself》 began on Sept. 27 at MMCA Cheongju, featuring around 180 paintings by 17 artists in their 30s and 40s - an age group that’s considered relatively young in the art world - who are devoted to basic forms of art in the digital age.
“The exhibition is meant to look at where contemporary Korean art is headed, and how artists of the 21st century are pursuing their careers,” said Lee Chu-young, the curator of the exhibition. “Paintings still and will continue to intrigue artists through technological change. The artists’ urge to paint is actually an expression of a thirst that cannot be quenched, which calls them upon the canvas.”
The title of the exhibition, “I Will Go Away All By Myself,” is taken from a novel by Japanese writer Chisako Wakatake in 2018, to “symbolize how young artists are all establishing their own artistic worlds in their own way,” according to Lee.
Acrylic paintings by Woo Jeong-su that resemble etchings begin the exhibition, telling the story of artistic endeavors made by the young creatives. His 〈Protagonist〉(2018) series is displayed on the first floor of the museum.
The exhibit leads to the fifth floor of the museum, which begins with a painting that looks like the backdrop of a movie set. 〈Take by Surprise #.1〉 by Park Kyung-jin features the subtlest details of society that people usually take for granted, a habit Park developed while working part-time jobs painting for actual movie sets. Movies talk about grand schemes and great ideas, but the people who make it happen are often forgotten - something Park wanted to touch on.
The other artists featured in the exhibit include Cho Moon-ki and Choi Byung-jin. The theme of the paintings vary, from how family torments us - 〈With the chief Mourner〉 (2014) and 〈The Grace〉 (2014) by Cho - to how we torment ourselves with our obsessions - as seen in the numbered painting series (2018) by Choi.
“As long as artists have the urge to express themselves, painting and art will live on,” said Lee. “The exhibition only deals with 17 artists, but that’s only a small proportion of the Korean contemporary art scene. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of artists who are paving their own paths. They are fighting against their own hardships and the prejudices against them, to build their own world. And this exhibition is a chance for people to see how they do that.”
The 2019 Cheongju Craft Biennale kicked off on Tuesday at Culture Factory C, and will run until Nov. 17. Craft works will be displayed and related programs will take place across the city, including in the front yard of MMCA Cheongju.
To celebrate the event, the museum has opened up an additional storage space, which features more than 400 pieces that the museum has collected over the last 50 years. The works are laid out according to materials, such as ceramics, glass, fabric, wood, stone and others.
“It’s usually more difficult for people to get a chance to see craft exhibitions compared to others,” said an official from the museum. “Through this event, people will be able to get a look at major craft works at a single site, and see how the future of craft will unfold by looking at works from the past and the present.”
For those who would like to see other classic works, the museum also offers "Secret Storage,” a display of some 150 works from MMCA’s Art Bank collection. The Art Bank was founded in February 2005 by the government to better preserve and expand MMCA’s art collections. Works include 〈Remember You Are Not Safe〉 (2015) by Jung Seung, 〈Desperate Flight〉 (2013) by Lee Won-kyung, 〈Standing 110781〉 (2011) by Lee Yong-deok and 〈Archisculpture 038〉 (2014) by Won Beom-sik.
Not to be missed is artist Cody Choi's neon installation, 〈Venetian Rhapsody - The Power of Bluff〉 (2016-17). It was first installed at the Korean Pavilion for the 2017 Venice Biennale, through which he wished to express how the art world - despite the elegance and civility displayed at the surface level - is just as shallow and vain as many other industries, best symbolized by the shining neon lights in Las Vegas that lure in the tourists.
“Choi had to make the work for the Venice Biennale smaller due to the restrictions of the pavilion’s size, but his fully realized version is at the MMCA,” said curator Lee.
Choi’s work will be put on display until May 17 next year. Admission to all of the exhibitions at MMCA Cheongju is free.