Korean Experimental Art Heads to New York With the Guggenheim Museum

Jonathan Feel
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Art sometimes makes an impact by raising problems in the world. This was the case with Korean experimental art in the 1960s and 70s, when dictatorships suppressed everything. At that time, experimental artists showed their avant-garde views and left traces of resistance to the times. Today, creative artwork from this time period is being shown in New York. These works can be seen at the Guggenheim Museum’s Only the Young: Experimental Art in Korea (1960s – 1970s) exhibition, held from September 1, 2023 to January 7, 2024.

Only the Young: Experimental Art in Korea (1960s - 1970s) GUGGENHEIM Poster. Image courtesy of MMCA.
Only the Young: Experimental Art in Korea (1960s – 1970s) GUGGENHEIM Poster. Image courtesy of MMCA.

Co-hosted by the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA) and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the exhibition is meaningful in introducing Korean experimental art not only to the U.S. but also to the global art world. The two organizations have started international cooperation and joint research since 2018, and the result is this exhibition. The show was first held in Seoul from May to July of 2023, and after this exhibition in New York, it will also be presented at the LA Hammer Museum from February 11, 2024. In this New York exhibition, about 80 works and 30 materials from a total of 29 artists meet with the audience on the second, fourth, and fifth floors of the Tower Gallery and at the Thanhauser exhibition hall.

This exhibition is expected to be an opportunity to compare and contrast the social aspects of the United States and Korea in the 1960s and 1970s. At that time, young Korean artists created avant-garde experimental art through various media such as stereoscopic art, events, and movies in protest of the formalism of the conservative older generation. In particular, they sublimated the dynamic social phenomenon that was infested with democratization under the oppressive dictatorship into art. These works and artists were ignored and treated as heresies in the mainstream art world of the time. But the current assessment is different. This experimental art is recognized as one of the pillars of Korean art history, connecting Korean artists to international trends, such as the Paris Biennale, and expanding their field of practice to members of the global art world. The economic value of these works now ranges from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Above: Ku-lim Kim, The Meaning of 124 Second (1969). Below: Neung-kyung Sung, Here (1975). Image courtesy of MMCA.
Above: Ku-lim Kim, The Meaning of 124 Second (1969). Below: Neung-kyung Sung, Here (1975). Image courtesy of MMCA.

The U.S. was also facing a turning point in the Cold War around the same time, putting the brakes on the conservatism of the older generation. The Civil Rights Movement, the anti-war peace movement, and feminism all gained traction. In Korea, amid the wave of modernization and industrialization pushed by the dictatorship, a transition was taking place to resist or overcome existing values. Based on this common denominator, the current exhibition at the Guggenheim emphasizes that Korean experimental artists tried to change aspects of Korean art by experimenting with Western languages as an alternative language.

The Guggenheim Museum attached great significance to the radical approach to the materials and processes of Korean experimental art, which created one of the most important avant-garde actions of the 20th century. Accordingly, to help spread appreciation of Korean experimental art, this exhibition was created to be understood intuitively. English booklets are provided for visitors, and various research essays and criticisms by art experts are included. Kun-yong Lee’s Snail Walk (October 13 to 14), Neung-kyung Sung’s Reading the Newspaper (November 17 to 18), Ku-lim Kim’s From Creation to Extinction (December 1 to 2), and various other performances will be held during the exhibition. 

Meanwhile, Korean films from around the same period will also meet audiences in New York. A film screening series, Korean Cinema’s Golden Decade: The 1960’s, will be co-hosted by the Korean Film Archive and the Korean Cultural Center New York (KCCNY). It is being held from September 1 to 17, 2023 at the Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater. A total of 24 films will be screened, including Hanyo (1960) directed by Ki-young Kim, The Eunuch (1968) directed by Sang-ok Shin, Mist (1967) directed by Soo-yong Kim, and A Woman Judge (1962), directed by Eun-won Hong. More information can be obtained from the KCCNY website

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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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