Monthly Archives: July 2013

Follow-up like Mike?

It is over a month after the Victoria Police raided the Linden Contemporary Arts Centre in St. Kilda on Saturday 1st of June – what is happening? Not much has happened. Heide, Gertrude Contemporary and the Victorian Tapestry Workshop have praised Paul Yore for his time with them. And a small side issue has developed with a scrap between artists and the Linden Centre. (For more about the police raid see my article in Crikey.)

Writing and researching this story has been way out of my usual territory of writing about the arts but having started on it I want to stay on the story. For let us not forget that at the heart of this story there is still a young artist, Paul Yore whose contribution to the “Like Mike” exhibition at the Linden Centre has been censored by the police, and that a month later some of his art in the hands of the police and his legal fate is still up in the air. Justice delayed is justice denied.

I’ve been trying to get information from the Victoria Police, politicians, people on Twitter, anybody… Nobody has been quick to comment, especially on the record. It looks like everyone is trying to bury this embarrassing episode quietly and slowly before allowing common sense in the discussion. Finally, the police replied to say: “the investigation is still ongoing. No charges have been laid at this time.”

Saturday 8th of June, artists rally at Linden Centre demand that the Centre reopen the “Like Mike” exhibition and stop pandering to censorship. Protesting the closure Stephen Haley has resigned from the Linden board of management. Geoff Newton, the co-curator has called for artist’s to boycott the Linden Centre.

The Linden Centre re-opened on the 11th and it issued a statement by Sue Foley, Chairperson
Linden Board of Management Inc on 16th. The  statement did give some further details; “we were notified by the Australian Classification Board that elements of the work by Paul Yore are considered Classification 1 – Restricted. This means that the work is considered to contain adult content and should be restricted to people 18 years and over.” (This classification was on Yore’s exhibit minus the work removed by the police.)

Although the Linden Centre has reopened to the public, with extended hours, the room with Paul Yore’s work remained closed. Closed is what the Linden Centre describes as “working through what this (the restricted classification) means in practical terms and will continue to consult with all the artists and our stakeholders when making decisions about how best to proceed.”

What is wrong with this picture?!


Wandering Seoul’s II

After being thrown in at the deep end of Korean Art on my visit to the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul (see my post). I’m trying to learn more by reading Youngna Kim’s Modern And Contemporary Art in Korea (Hollym, 2005, New Jersey). The first thing about Korean modern art is that it is only a century old and most of it happened after 1953 when the Korean War ended in the present stalemate. In South Korea artists through themselves into the deep end of modern art and before they had finished with working through modern art post-modern art appeared.

Kwan Yuk exhibition at Gallery 500, Seoul

Kwan Yuk exhibition at Gallery 500, Seoul

I am considering Kim’s book in relation to the life of Kwan Yuk, an artist that I met on my wandering around Seoul. I saw a couple small galleries in the streets in the Insa-Dong district of Seoul amongst the antique dealers, the artist supply shops and second hand bookstores. In one of these modern commercial galleries, Gallery 500, I saw a solo exhibition by Kwan Yuk, it was a mini retrospective of his work. Kwan Yuk is an old artist with a young mind. I want to look at his art and life as a random sample of a post-war Korean artist, to test the accuracy of the Youngna Kim’s history against the life of this artist.

I like an artist who continues to change throughout his life and in the exhibition I could see that Kwan Yuk has roamed from Chagal like expressionist paintings to collage with spray paint.  Kwan Yuk and I could only communicate with gestures but when your subject is the art in front of you this rudimentary sign language comes alive. And he generously gave me both the two-volume book of his work.

I have put together a short history from Youngna Kim’s history and Kwan Yuk’s short year-by-year resume in his book.

Like many Korean artists Kwan Yuk studied in Japanese art schools. This was in part the legacy of Japanese colonial occupation of Korea and that Japan had the most progressive modern art education in the region. Kwan Yuk exhibited in Japanese University alumni association between 1952-57.

In 1961-64 Kwan Yuk then exhibited in the National Exhibition. The National Exhibition was another legacy of Japanese occupation. It continued under the post-war government until 1981 when the national exhibition was privatised. There were breakaway exhibitions from artists of the Art Informel movement in the 1950s when they were included in the National Exhibition in 1961. It doesn’t look like Kwan Yuk was one the hard core of Art Informel abstract artists and not because he was frightened to attempt it.

Kwan Yuk had his first of many solo exhibitions in 1963. He worked as an art teacher and exhibited in the Seoul Teacher’s Art Exhibition between 1974-82. He has won awards and participated in various invitational exhibitions. It looks like Kwan Yuk has worked his way through European modernism in his own way. And ending up with his most recent works are collages that use candy-wrappers and nude photographs with a light bondage theme. Are these elements the Minjin influence on Korean art or sexy interpretation of Matisee’s collage?

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I refer back to Youngna Kim’s book again to consider the Minjin, folk art movement. In describing Korea’s introduction to modernism Youngna Kim discusses the introduction of the idea of an artist, the continuity of tradition in modernism and the change of the role of Korean woman. And briefly looks at the Soviet-realist direction that modernism took in North Korea. This different history of modern and contemporary art full of references to tradition while seriously engaging with the modern, both international and local in focus and all happing very quickly.

Kwan Yuk, my random artist must have seen much of this history in his life and had an influence on a younger generation of Korean artists. And his art continues to develop becoming more colourful, playful and sexy.


Of Mall & Place

There are two little pedestrian spaces off the long straight length of the Sydney Road shopping strip. These two urban hubs are Sparta Place in Brunswick and Victoria Street Mall in Coburg. Sparta Place has some great aerosol walls, yarn bombing, sculpture and fashion boutiques and a cafe. Victoria Street Mall has yarn bombing, sculpture, cafes, post-office and public library. In both malls the public art, in both cases sculpture and street art, has accreted rather than incorporated into the design. These two malls were first designed and created by the Moreland City Council but then the public and surrounding businesses have added to this design. Just as the trees planted in them have grown these malls have changed over time.

Sparta Place

Three different groups are struggling for control of Sparta Place. There is the Moreland City Council urban design team who did the initial change to a pedestrian space in 1998. Maria Hardwick as a business owner invested heavily in renovating the old building gentrifying it to opening fashion boutiques. The five metal columns full of post and pans, “New Order” by Louise Lavarack have a post-modern approach to classical references. But some of the residents of Brunswick and their council member wanted a memorial to Sparta to celebrate the relationship between Moreland and its sister city in Greece (one of Moreland’s many sister cities) with the statue to King Leonidas and they got in 2009.

Petros Georgariou , King Leonidas

Petros Georgariou , King Leonidas

New Order,  Louise Lavarack

New Order, Louise Lavarack

Sparta Place has the architectural attractions of the Hardwick building and the Spanish revival building at the end of Sparta Place. The dappled shade of the trees, benches with yarn bombing, the shop signs unfolded on the pavement that emphasize the middle path through the mall. At the carpark end of the mall quality street art on the large walls adds to the sense of place.

Local people do use Sparta Place to sit and talk, although it is not as successful an urban space as Victoria Street Mall in Coburg. The old men who come regularly to Victoria Street Mall to sit on the long bench by along the glass wall of the library make it an institution. But there is a social balance in the ages of people using the mall from the very young to the very old and this is important in this time of age segregation.

Victoria Street Mall Coburg

There have been recent improvements to Victoria Street Mall with new water permeable cover around the base of the trees, replacing the area that was covered with heavy sand that quickly spread across the paving. The seats have been covered with an artificial turf giving the Mall a quirky and fun design feature. The style has become funkier along with the yarn bombing and other community art projects.

Board-games have been added to the large public table that is now located at the library end of the mall – not that I’ve seen anyone playing them yet although this public table (in a mall full of private café tables) is still well used.

At the corner of Victoria Street and Waterfield Road there is a small bronze house with a corridor with a corridor going straight through it. It is simplified but typical of Australian houses in Coburg. It is “Dwelling” by Jason Waterhouse, the winner of the 2005 Moreland Sculpture Show. Waterhouse has been making sculptures of this basic house form for a number of years in various media. At other end, the Sydney Road end chuggers and buskers compete for the passing trade.

ason Waterhouse, Dwelling

Jason Waterhouse, Dwelling

These two malls are urban nodes. Nodes are those points of interaction in urban environment that link various paths. The public perceives and navigates the urban space, in a graduated scale from a path, edge, node, to a district. Public art and sculpture is used to mark the edge of a path or as part of the design of a node.

Apart from these two malls poor urban design of nodes in far more typical in Coburg. Coburg’s historic railway station is still not working as a node even after the recent renovations to the station’s forecourt. All of the hubs around any of the railway stations in Coburg and Brunswick are badly designed; the local councils and the railways department don’t appear to be able to communicate.

(I’ve written blog entries about both of these malls in 2009: Leonidas @ Sparta Place and Victoria Street Mall Coburg.)


Persons of Interest

Notes from the Pop Underground edited by Peter Belsito (Last Gasp, 1985) aspires to be Calvin Tompkins The Bride and the Bachelors: 5 Masters of the Avante-Garde (1965) for the eighties. Both books are a series of interviews, horizon scanning the horizon for the arts. Tomkins interviewed Marcel Duchamp, Jean Tinguely, John Cage, Robert Rauchenberg, and Merce Cunningham. Notes from the Pop Underground had a broader focus including the performing arts, literature and film. And Peter Belisto has interviews with: Survival Research Laboratories, Diamanda Galas, Church of the Subgenius, Robert Anton Wilson, Jim Jarmusch, Michael Peppe, Raw Magazine, Keith Haring, Jello Biafra and Spalding Gray. (You can give yourself out of ten if you have seen the work of these people.)

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I remember buying this book; it was on the special’s stand at Minotaur Books back in the late 1980s. I’d heard of a couple of the people in it and after seeing the photos of Survival Research Laboratories and Diamanda Galas I had to buy the book. It soon became a favourite and I continue to update it with references to articles and dates of death. The first thing that I did when I heard that Spalding Gray was dead was to make a note in my copy of Notes from the Pop Underground.

Before I bought the book I’d heard of 3 people on that list: Robert Anton Wilson, Jim Jarmusch (thanks to the Valhalla Cinema) and Keith Haring (because he had painted walls in Melbourne). Since reading the book I have encountered, through various media, all of them again with the exception of Michael Peppe.

When I started thinking about my Person’s of Interest series for this blog Notes from the Pop Underground instantly sprang to mind. It was a great predictor of culturally significant people from the pop underground, some emerged from the underground into the mainstream but all had incredible artistic vision. The 1980s came across loud and clear. It was a time when you could see the future while still living in a past full of analogue technology.

Diamanda Galas’ concert in Melbourne a few years ago was magnificent. I was also impressed by the number of people that walked out, Melbourne’s Concert Hall must have emptied by two thirds. And how in the taxi ride home the taxi home the Armenian taxi driver was happy to hear that she sang an Armenian folk song.


Wandering Seoul’s Galleries

For a traveller visiting commercial contemporary art galleries in Seoul. There are many, maybe not as many as in New York City, but there are a lot. And many of these galleries are in along Samcheong-Ro in the Jongno-gu district, you hardly need a map to find these galleries, there is one next to another.

Lee Yongbaek,“Pieta: self-death”, 2011

Lee Yongbaek,“Pieta: self-death”, 2011

Jongno-gu district is a great place to explore and see exhibitions in commercial galleries, there is interesting architecture, lots of great places to eat and lots of young Korean women in short summer dresses or short shorts. The galleries are often purpose built spaces with large well-designed spaces.

Galleries are closed on Mondays and on Tuesdays many of the art galleries are still closed for installations with the exhibitions opening in the late afternoon of Wednesday.

My one complaint about the Korean art scene there are too many flowers. Yes, I understand there is a tradition of floral art but I saw three or four floral painting exhibitions on my walks around Seoul’s smaller galleries. As well as all the paintings of flowers there are garlands flowers at exhibition openings – flowers are not necessary for art. Aside from the exhibitions of floral art (enough with the flowers) I saw some world-class exhibitions of contemporary art in my wandering between Seoul’s galleries.

Korea Gallery

Choi Jung Hee’s solo exhibition wasn’t floral at GMA (Gwangu Museum of Art); Choi was paintings of bamboo in a screen of large coloured dots or the reverse of that screen. The colours, optics and concept of this series of paintings all came together in one painting where Choi had added another screen of writing. Bamboo forms are connected to Chinese writing in a deep sense, the European alphabet is also said to be connected to trees, and in Choi’s painting the painted bamboo and the writing approach unity again.

“In a Moment, We Awe” at Hakgojae Gallery is an awesome group show (I always worry that with a title like that you won’t but in this case they definitely did awe). “Broken Mirror” by Lee Yongbaek was so awesome; watching mirrors break in slow motion on a gold-framed mirror was great, watching it in a room with four large mirrors doing that was awesome. He is great with a paintbrush as I could see from his plastic fish painting, as well as any other media and represented Korea in the Venice Art Bienniale 2011. (His sculpture, “Pieta: self-death” was on the roof of the gallery combining both the positive and negative parts.) All of Lee Yongbaek’s work in the exhibition was from his Venice Art Biennale exhibition. Other artists in this exhibition also impressed (if not awed) including Seok Lee paintings and installation play with the image of the gallery space. And Heo Suyong’s painting of caterpillar with nepenthes was a creepy antidote to all the flower paintings.

Choong-Hyun Roh’s exhibition “Prosaic Landscape” at Kukje Gallery was just that paintings of prosaic landscapes. Often the landscapes are the same riverside locations but at the wrong time of year in the mid-winter snow or the summer rainy season. Snow on a 7/11 convenience store is as prosaic a landscape as you could encounter.

At Gallery Doll there was carved and painted wood by Shin Jeong Eun; the work is like paintings by Magritte carved in low relief and more yonic than Magritte would have dared.

GuGu Kim

One more gallery before they shut at 6pm – finger painting by GuGu Kim. GuGu Kim’s finger painting technique roamed from photorealism, to cheeky designs to primitive, raw and childish- I liked it best when he did them one on top of the other. I don’t know why I haven’t seen more artists doing this but GuGu Kim is the only finger painter I’ve encountered.


Seoul’s Big Art Museums

The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) at Gwacheon was my first real exposure to Korean modern and contemporary art. I had thrown myself in the deep end. The collection was 99% Korean and all from after 1954. That was okay Korean art had thrown itself into the deep-end of modern art after the Korean War and were still giving it everything they can.

National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art , Gwacheon, Korea

National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art , Gwacheon, Korea

It is a massive collection of Korean art – it is hard to know where to start. I started with the large retrospective exhibition of Youn Myeung-ro paintings. In Youn Myeung-ro’s paintings I could see references to precursors in traditional Korean ceramics. I then worked my way through the rest of the three floors of the museum with painting, photography, sculpture, installations, architecture and jewellery. There is lots of exciting contemporary art. Park Jaeyoung’s showcase of mind-control devices from the “DownLeit Corp.” and Gu Minja’s installations about places of display from the shop display of the “Atlantic – Pacific Co.” to “The Square Table: Public Hearing of the recruitment requirements for artist –position civil servant.” Kim Tae-dong’s “Daybreak” series of photographs was a vision that haunted my view of Seoul at night.

The MMCA is surrounded by a large and pleasant sculpture garden with the disconcerting sound shrieks of pleasure of the fun park across the road. And this is all set within the Seoul Grand Park, a lot of parkland. The museum building was completed in 1986. It is large and designed around Nam June Paik’s pagonda of 1000+ TV sets and videos “Dadaikseon <The More, the Better>”. It was created for the Seoul Olympics and it is now in the museum’s central tower with a circular ramp going up and around like a mini Guggenheim. I was hoping and expecting to see more of Nam’s art in Korea, I only saw a few works but what I did see was great.

I notice that they are building another branch of the MMCA in the centre of Seoul next to the grand Gyeongbokgung Palace (that will be more convenient for international tourists like me) and that there is another branch already open at Deoksugung.

Nam June Paik, “Dadaikseon ” 1988

Nam June Paik, “Dadaikseon ” 1988

Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul, Korea

Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul, Korea

The Leeum Samsung Museum of Art would have been an easier start on Korean art world and more complete introduction with traditional, modern and contemporary Korean art, along with world-class, international modern and contemporary art. The elegant museum building opened in 2004.

I was expecting that the Korean art collections might be more biased towards the American art rather than the European or British art for reasons of geopolitical influence, but the Leeum collection’s certainly wasn’t, there is great balance to its international collection (better than MOMA). The only bias that I could detect was for Korean art and Leeum has a fine collection of traditional celadon ceramics, Buddhist paintings and sculptures from the ancient Silla Dynasty in the 4th century to the recent Joseon Dynasty.

It also has the best collection of contemporary art that I’ve seen in a single gallery space. You entered the space through a Felix Gonzalez-Torres curtain of beads to find yourself reflected in an Amish Kapour hexagonal mirror. Around the corner is a recent Gilbert and George, both of them looking like My Favourite Martian with the stems of gingko tree leaves sprouting from their heads, or rather the mirror image of half their heads. The mirror backed medicine cabinet by Damien Hirst is facing and reflecting a Cindy Sherman wall work with mirror images in the background. I laughed out loud at another kind of mirror reflection image by Nam June Paik “My Faust Communion” with demonic images on tv sets arranged in an altar piece. Lee Bul’s white cyborg sculpture was hanging from the ceiling. There were also two floral artworks one by Koons and one by Warhol (I will get to flowers in my next post about Korean art galleries).


Not Gangnam Style – Korean Street Art

There isn’t much Korean street art, well, I didn’t see much on my recent travels. Most Korean graffiti is traditional, back before old school; people writing on the wall with pens. The absence of aerosol graffiti or street art is not due to Korean respect for property; Koreans write on the walls, in stairwells, on rocks and even in museums.

Korea graffiti wall

Writing on the stone of Inwangsan Mountain, Seoul

Writing on the stone of Inwangsan Mountain, Seoul

There is even traditional Korean writing on the rocks of Inwangsan mountain in Seoul.

Isadong wall, Seoul

Isadong wall, Seoul

In Seoul I saw more street art than old school aerosol graffiti and I saw more aerosol art in the lanes of Gyeongju that I did in Seoul. I’m told there is some in Seoul but Seoul is a very big place and although I followed up some leads and looked down many streets and lanes, I never saw it. This post comes with my usual caveat about commenting on the graffiti and street art of other cities applies here; I probably didn’t know the best locations to visit, that street art is ephemeral and I was just seeing what happened upon during my travels. Normally I see some graffiti along the railway tracks when I travel by train but there was none in Korea. I saw some in the many laneways of Seoul and Gyeongju.

Gyeongju wall

Gyeongju wall

Paste-up in Bukchon, Seoul

Paste-up in Bukchon, Seoul

I saw a great paste-up (wheatpasting) in the Bukchon district of Seoul. There were also some stencils and other work in this attractive and cultural significant area.

Bukchon wall, Seoul

Bukchon wall, Seoul

Of course there was some tagging and stickers in Seoul – mostly by Zacpot, he is everywhere with stickers and pens.

Zacpot sticker, Seoul

Zacpot sticker, Seoul

There is lots of potential for some truly great street art in Korea, there are a lot of great walls it just needs artists who want to do it (along with better cans and caps).

Merecat stencil, Seoul

Merecat stencil, Seoul


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