MMCA and the Guggenheim to Exhibit 1960s and ‘70s Korean Experimental Art That Resisted Dictatorship

Joon Bae Kim
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On May 24, Tina Turner (1939 – 2023), the “Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” died at the age of 83. Turner, who commanded the stage with lion hair, sold more than 150 million albums worldwide and won 12 Grammy Awards. “Ike & Tina Turner,” with the singer’s musical partner and husband, was a big hit in the 1960s and ‘70s. However, Tina Turner suffered violence throughout her marriage to Ike, and she was the first entertainer to publicly mention it after their divorce. The Associated Press evaluated that Turner became a symbol of resilience to the public through this.

In the United States, the 1960s and ‘70s were the era of counterculture, symbolized by rock and roll, hippie culture, and anti-war movements. There was a rapid transformation to overturn and resist mainstream culture and existing values. On the other hand, after the Korean War in the 1950s, taboos and oppression were rampant in Korea under the pretext of industrialization and modernization. The tyranny of dictatorship swept the times, and individuals became objects of uniformity and homogeneity, reduced to huge social or organizational accessories.

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

However, even in those days, there was art that resisted tyranny by wearing a band of rebelliousness. Using raw language, various forms of Korean experimental art in the ‘60s and ‘70s deviated from formalism. A series of touring exhibitions are being held in Korea and the United States to document this Korean experimental art. Titled “Only the Young: Experimental Art in Korea 1960s-1970s,” this exhibition was co-organized and hosted by the National Museum of Contemporary Art Korea (MMCA) and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. The exhibition runs from May 26 to July 16, 2023 in Korea at the MMCA Seoul. After that, it will continue to the Guggenheim Museum in September and the Los Angeles Hammer Museum in February next year.

This exhibition is the result of international cooperation and joint research between the MMCA and the Guggenheim Museum, a project that began in 2018. The exhibition will feature 99 works and 31 archive materials created by 29 artists. Visitors can see the history of Korea at that time through works from the 1960s and ‘70s. In particular, it is possible to examine the history of Korean experimental art, in which young artists of the time renewed the aspect of Korean art through various experiments and expanded the field of practice as members of the world’s art community.

MMCA introduced the exhibition: “We tried to create the theme based on the social and cultural history and the narrative structure with images of the works to revive the solid and diverse aspects of the era.”

The 1960s and ‘70s, featuring the beginning of Korean experimental art, was a time when Korean society was rapidly changing. Anti-war peace movements, feminism, and issues abroad also affected Korea. At the same time, the confrontation between the two Koreas was a mechanism by which the dictatorship justified oppression. In this period of internal and external confusion, young artists at the time pioneered the genre of experimental art. Desiring for a more expanded world centered on ‘I,’ they found the true meaning of art in their daily lives.

Young artists of the time sought communication between art and society while strongly protesting modernism based on formalism of the older generation. Their experiments appeared in the form of various and provocative art practices, deviating from the existing realm of painting and sculpture. They dynamically expressed social phenomena by encompassing various media, including objects, installation art, happening, events, movies, and videos as experimental art. Their spirit formed a youth culture in Korea in the 1970s, along with resistance literature, songs, and movies, yielding new social and cultural phenomena.

“At that time, experimental artists dreamed of ‘me in the world’ and ‘my Korea.’ Their dream today is shared with movies, literature, and K-Pop in a global cultural phenomenon under the name of ‘Korean Wave,’” MMCA said. “They have not only been summoned as the prototype of Korean contemporary art, but have also diversified the layers of global art history.”

Kulim Kim, Yinyang 11-S. Image courtesy of Seoul Auction.
Kulim Kim, Yinyang 11-S. Image courtesy of Seoul Auction.

Just as Tina Turner became a symbol of resilience to the public, Korean experimental art half a century ago shows resilience that nourishes K-Pop and K-Art. Such interest in Korean experimental art is also appearing in the Korean auction industry. Seoul Auction organized the “Korean Avant-Garde Section” of its Contemporary Art Sale on May 30, 2023. Seoul Auction noted, “It is an opportunity to examine the possibility and value of Korean experimental art as a major theme that will emerge in the art market.” Seung-taek Lee’s Untitled (estimate: USD 38,000 – $64,000), Kulim Kim’s Yinyang 11-S (estimate: $68,000 – $106,000) and Yinyang 8-S (estimate: $53,000 –  $75,000) using paints and collages were available.

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Joon Bae Kim
Joon Bae Kim
Reporter and editor

Joon Bae Kim is a reporter and editor for Auction Daily in Korea. He has been reporting in various media for about 20 years in Korea. He also served as the editor-in-chief of IT Chosun. He is well versed in the IT field and is interested in the advancement of the auction market in Korea.

한국에 주재하고 있는 옥션데일리 필진이자 편집자이다. 한국에서 20년 가량 취재하고 기사를 써왔다. IT조선 편집국장을 역임했다. IT분야에 조예가 깊으며 한국에서의 경매시장 첨단화에 관심을 갖고 있다.

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