Interview With BAF Organizer Haeda Kim: “We Are Gradually Preparing for the Overseas Expansion of Korean Buddhist Art”

Jonathan Feel
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In Korea, there is the Buddha Art Fair (BAF), which presents traditional and Buddhist art works. Korea is not a Buddhist country, but it has long been rooted in people’s lives since Buddhism spread more than 1,700 years ago. In particular, Buddhist art is the mainstream of ancient art, with outstanding works such as temples and stone pagodas, Buddha statues, paintings, and Buddhist bells. The most recent Buddha Art Fair was held at the Seoul Trade Exhibition and Convention Center (SETEC) from March 30 to April 2, 2023 as a place to view traditional works and other modern interpretations.

The art fair, which was organized around the phrase “The Flower of Living Korean Traditional Culture,” was prepared as a place to look back on the past decade and find a direction to move forward. Forty-nine teams and 71 booths participated in various genres such as Buddhist paintings, Buddha statues, modern Buddhist art, Zen paintings, Korean paintings, crafts, and modern art. The BAF was held with the 2023 Seoul International Buddhism Expo and can be viewed online for those outside of Korea. 

To learn more about the event, Auction Daily met with Haeda Kim (BAF Planning Operator: Mind Design), the organizer of the Buddha Art Fair.

Haeda Kim (Art Director of Mind Design, Inc), General Organizer of the Buddha Art Fair. Image ⓒ Haeda Kim.
Haeda Kim (Art Director of Mind Design, Inc), General Organizer of the Buddha Art Fair. Image ⓒ Haeda Kim.

Auction Daily: What is the focus of this year’s Buddha Art Fair?

Haeda Kim: The Buddha Art Fair (BAF) has held a theme hall every year, and this year’s theme is Yeolam Valley Rock-carved Buddha Rightly Enshrining Exhibition. It is estimated that this Buddha statue in Yeolamgok, Namsan, Gyeongju, was made in the late 8th and early 9th centuries. This statue fell in an earthquake that occurred during the Joseon Dynasty’s Sejong (15th century), and its original form has been preserved so far. It is only 5cm away from the ground, so it is called the “5cm Miracle.” The statue, which has been neglected for about 1,200 years, is approximately six meters long and weighs about 80 tons. Eleven artists have been attached to a project to straighten it without damage. The artists created a new work on the theme of the Buddha statue and decided to donate half of the work to the Buddha statue when it was sold at the Buddha Art Fair. At the same time, art prints have been produced and will be sold for KRW 70,000 to ₩80,000 (USD 54 to $62). 

In addition, India is the host country to mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and India this year. The Buddha’s hometown is in India, and Buddhist art was also transmitted from India to Korea through China. Accordingly, media art that reinterprets the life of the Buddha was introduced.

Auction Daily: The BAF has a unique position, allowing visitors to view traditional Korean works and Buddhist artworks in one place. Tell us about the achievements of the BAF.

Haeda Kim: The BAF is the only traditional art market in Korea that deals with various genres of traditional art, including crafts such as Buddhist paintings, folk paintings, calligraphy, ceramics, woodworking, and metal crafts. In the early days of the BAF, there were few participating artists, so the booth could not be filled. At that time, traditional artists were unfamiliar with the art fair format. There were many difficulties because I had to explain the concept of the art fair to persuade them to participate. Then, as the years have accumulated, 80 booths are filled enough without having to meet artists individually. In particular, the artists themselves bring their junior artists and add opinions to the art fair planning. I think these are achievements. At first, artists who treated us as door-to-door salespeople are now actively participating and thinking about how to grow the traditional art market. 

In addition, traditional artists used to think of themselves as artisans but did not think of themselves as artists, but these days they are accepting their identity as artists. I am confident that the BAF played a big role in the permeation of the concept into traditional art.

bright by Minji Kim, the first prize of BAF Youth Artist Contest. Image courtesy of Buddhism Expo executive office.
bright by Minji Kim, the first prize of BAF Youth Artist Contest. Image courtesy of Buddhism Expo executive office.

Auction Daily: The BAF also showcased works that won awards at the “BAF Youth Artist Contest,” which focuses on fostering and discovering new artists. Tell us more about this contest and the winners. 

Haeda Kim: A total of 61 people applied this year, with 12 winners. Minji Kim’s bright, which won first prize, expressed the figure revealed by the main Buddha and the Hyupsi Bodhisattva meeting light and darkness. Buddha in the House by Hani Shin, who won the grand prize, is a reinterpretation of the Four Heavenly Kings as cultural icons, not religious symbols. In addition, you can view works that show various and different senses. This contest serves as an opportunity for young artists to continue to grow as artists. I met an artist who won the grand prize a few years ago, and I heard that there are more opportunities to draw paintings in temples because they are connected to monks who have seen the winning works of the contest. I think this is an opportunity that cannot be encountered in other contests.

Auction Daily: In Korea, Buddhist art is easily accessible through temples, etc., but the overall perception of Buddhist art does not seem to be deep. What is the value of Buddhist art?

Haeda Kim: First, it is valuable in that it is religious art. Usually, works in art fairs are for collection or investment techniques. However, most of the works in the BAF are for worship. People who buy the work put their hands together, meditate, or pull themselves together while viewing it. The purpose is different from other art fairs. Second, artists who create Buddhist art also have the perception that they are working differently from other artists. So they think about ‘what is tradition’ and throw this topic at the audience. In this regard, the BAF can be seen as a venue for open discussions on tradition. BAF makes it possible to question and reflect on the concept of tradition, whether it is sticking to tradition or trying it by turning it on.

Auction Daily: What are the overall trends of traditional and Buddhist art in Korea?

Haeda Kim: I would like to talk about the work of Chil Gyo Seo, a representative artist of the BAF. He is an artist who has been participating steadily since the first BAF, and he focuses on accurate and elaborate human expression. Most Buddha statues tend to be fixed, but when you look at the Buddha statues made by this artist, it also feels like Rodin’s work. It is different from other Buddha statues. As it was made based on accurate human expression, it became an issue in the Buddhist community. There was once a lot of talk about making God human and being too sexy. Nevertheless, as BAF continued to expose his works, his works entered major temples. It can be seen as an example of changing the flow of Buddhist art while growing up with the Buddha Art Fair. There is also an opinion that tradition should be kept, but attempts to “modernize tradition” that newly interpret tradition are also continuing, centering on young people.

Auction Daily: In many places outside of Korea, Buddhist art may be viewed as an unfamiliar field. What is the trend of Buddhist art abroad as art, not as religious symbols?

Haeda Kim: I have researched European and North American markets to explore overseas expansion. Although it was not an accurate and rigorous investigation, Buddhist art seemed to be consumed as Orientalism in these places. Therefore, it could be viewed as either interior props or displayed in museums. The former can be seen in MAISON & OBJET, an indoor interior exhibition in Paris, France, and the latter is exemplified by Buddha statues and relics at places such as the Rubin Museum of Art, a Buddhist museum in New York. The works presented at the BAF are works of contemporary artists, not relics or interior props. So I wonder if it will work in overseas markets. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m preparing for overseas expansion little by little. We are also making efforts to receive funding for overseas expansion.

Visitors look around the work in the BAF. Image courtesy of Buddhism Expo executive office.
Visitors look around the work in the BAF. Image courtesy of Buddhism Expo executive office.

Auction Daily: What joys and sorrows did you have while preparing for the Buddha Art Fair as a planner? As an art major, do you have any desire to create works?

Haeda Kim: Last year, the BAF was held in September, and it was difficult to prepare again in six months. I was also worried about what if the artists’ participation was low, but this was unnecessary. While preparing, the artists actively expressed their opinions and joined us, and I am happy to display good works. It is more fun for me to teach at a university, talk about the work with others than to create a work. Therefore, it is good to plan this art fair and create it with artists. That’s my pleasure.

Auction Daily: Last question– the world is gradually moving on from lockdowns and isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We think there are roles that art can play at this time. In your opinion, how can art meet and adapt to the world?

Haeda Kim: This question can be a life-wide worry. Some people say they can live without art. Then you can ask the question, “Can art actually help our lives?” This is to ask the reason for the existence of art. I think it’s a life journey to fill out a possible answer sheet to this question. In order to find an answer, I also tried exhibition planning on mental health. Looking at the reactions of visitors and artists, I wanted to find out how art affects the human mental world. There must be a role that art can play now that it is moving away from COVID-19. Currently, it seems to be a process of finding the answer together.

Media Source
Jonathan Feel
Jonathan Feel

Jonathan Feel is a reporter and editor for Auction Daily in Korea. He has been active in various fields such as the media, social economy, village community, and fair trade coffee industry and is writing. It is recognized that art is not far from society and the times, and that art can be a tool for the sustainability of the Earth and mankind. He hopes that good works and artists in Korea will meet with readers.

김이준수는 한국 주재 옥션데일리 필진이자 편집자이다. 언론, 사회적경제, 마을공동체, 공정무역 커피업계 등 다양한 분야에서 활동했고 글을 쓰고 있다. 예술이 사회·시대와 동떨어져 있지 않으며, 예술이 지구와 인류의 지속가능성을 위한 도구가 될 수 있음을 인식하고 있다. 한국의 좋은 작품과 아티스트를 많이 소개하고 싶다.

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