Tag Archives: Claes Oldenburg

Seoul Man

I’m back from a holiday in Korea where I saw some awesome art and met some warm generous artists. I was also impressed with Korea’s public sculptures, urban design and the public toilets are the best in the world.

Public toilet in Gyeongju, South Korea

Public toilet in Gyeongju, South Korea

When I travel I like to visit art galleries, from the major official art galleries to what smaller galleries I can find; I try to avoid the tourist focused commercial galleries. I try to find some street art but that’s not always that easy because it is generally not in the guidebooks. Along the way I see historic buildings, public sculptures, travel on public transport and eat at local food at local restaurants but seeing art is my primary objective. I have written so many blog posts about art tourism that I have now created a separate category for them. Maybe I should write a book about them; I haven’t been finding Lonely Planet that useful a guidebook when it comes to this side of travel.

Seoul does contain two of the top 20 museums in the world (based on visitor numbers) the National Museum of Korea (Seoul) with 3,1289,550 visitors last year is in 12th place (according to Art Newspaper’s annual museum attendance figures for 2012) and in 15th place the National Folk Museum of Korea (Seoul) with 2,640,264 visitors. (Melbourne’s NGV was in 25th place with 1,571,333 visitors.)

I didn’t know much about Korean art before my trip; I was vaguely aware that Korea was promoting itself as a centre of contemporary art. But the only Korean artists I knew was Nam June Paik and Lee Bul. Nam June Paik was the man who cut off John Cage’s tie and who did video installations before it was commonplace. Lee Bul who makes white contemporary space-age alien kind of sculptures that hang.

Before I left I tried to familiarize myself with the Korean art scene by reading Seoul Art Fiend! Earlier this year I walked in to Doosan Gallery in NYC Chelsea gallery district (See my post Black Mark in Chelsea). It was certainly distinctive as a not-for-profit space amongst all the commercial galleries. I wasn’t sure about the art on exhibition it was very neutral and very studied.

I saw a lot art, ancient, modern and contemporary as Korea does have some great galleries and museums large and small. There are many contemporary public sculptures in the streets of Seoul of varying quality and there is a small graffiti and street art scene in Korea. More blog posts to follow about Korea when I have copied my notes and read more of the literature that I brought back. (Not Gangnam Style – Korean Street Art, Seoul’s Big Art Museums, Wandering Seoul’s Galleries and Wandering Seoul’s II.)

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen sculpture in Seoul

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen sculpture in Seoul

I particularly liked the use of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen sculpture that marked the start of the urban redesign masterpiece of Seoul, the Cheonggyecheon. The stream side walk is such a relaxing place to be but just a few steps away from the centre of Seoul and it goes on for kilometres.  It is like the reverse of Boston’s new park, a great reinvention of an urban space, a raised hight way demolished to recreate the urban space.


Korean folk art has a lot going for it too – could these be the new tikki?

Aside from all the art, the buildings, the food and the hard mattresses my strongest impression of Korea is of the excellent public toilets that are there where you need them. I am not just talking clean and functional but automatic motion detector lights and music. And there is always access for the disabled. The public toilets in the streets and parks were well design and not simple utilitarian constructions. Korean public toilets are the paradigm for public toilets and made my trip so comfortable.


MOMA is Overrated

There is a notice in the legal notice in foyer stating that 1200 people in MOMA is “dangerous and illegal”. It must have been approaching those numbers on the day that I visited. There were so many people at MOMA crowding around those must see works of art and taking photos on their mobile phones that I had to consider the following questions:

If mass population is the definition of lowbrow then has MOMA made some modern art lowbrow? For example, has The Scream become lowbrow? (There is art in MOMA that has not become lowbrow, there were very few people looking at the works by Joseph Beuys.)

The Scream at MOMA

“I don’t know how I feel about my selfie right now.”
—overheard at the Museum of Modern Art in the room with Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” (Hyperallergic 17/5/13)

Does the game of life now score according to what photos you have on your iPhone? The 1001 works of art/buildings/places that you must see before you die. Do not do any of the 101 things you must do before you die because everyone else is doing them. Thousands of tourists trapped at Machu Picchu in late Jan 2010 and thousands more tourists line up to see Michelangelo’s David. Wouldn’t it be more meaningful to find a great artist who you have never heard of before?

MOMA is in a cultural feedback loop of its own construction since has MOMA defined modern art through its collection. The howl of this feedback loop echoes through Munch’s Scream and the packed galleries of MONA. “The accounts of the past are constructed out of facts gathered with the express purpose of bolstering this proposition, whose truth has become axiomatic. The accent is placed on the idea that New York art was crucial to the further development of all art the world over and, further, that it somehow emerged from the final phase of the long march towards a purified modern art. These histories of course subscribe to the formalist analysis proposed by Alfred Barr of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, an analysis championed by Clement Greenberg throughout his career.” (Serge Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art Chicago, 1983, p.7)

The second floor of MOMA does have contemporary art exhibited but this is a limited space. I enjoyed contemporary art more in at the New Gallery in the Bowery, the National Gallery of Canada or the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It was a better atmosphere to appreciate the art and the collections of contemporary art are just as good if not better.

MOMA starts modern art in the 1880s with Cézanne, Monet and van Gogh and ends it in the 1980s, rather arbitrary points, as modern art clearly started earlier and probably ended sooner. And there are some other serious gaps in MOMA’s collection, or at least the works on display. There no Basquiat and nothing from the Harlem Renaissance making me wonder if MOMA ignores black artists? It is all very white (see my upcoming post on European Art History’s Audience) except for the galley attendants who could probably trash any other gallery’s attendants in a game of basketball. There seemed to be other gaps in their German and English collection for example no Francis Bacon and no Neue Sachlichkeit paintings.

Claes Oldenburg's Mouse and Ray Gun Museums at MOMA

Claes Oldenburg’s Mouse and Ray Gun Museums at MOMA

I did enjoy the Claes Oldenburg exhibition that was on when I visited. I was particularly interested in the way that his Store works anticipated the contemporary interest in the “graffiti” and the “street”; these words were repeated in many of his works. But otherwise MONA is not a museum that I would consider visiting again, it is over-rated and over-crowded.

MOMA is not the most over-rated art museum that I have seen in this world; that honour must go MONA in Hobart. If MOMA is a greatest all time #1 hits compilation album then MONA in Hobart is a heavy metal compilation. (See my post on MONA.)

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