The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA) has been holding various exhibitions that show the development process of the country’s modern and contemporary art.
South Korea’s modern and contemporary art history has been influenced by Western art history. At the same time, the country’s unique historical background, such as the Japanese colonial period and the Korean War, has led to the development of a special artistic narrative.
Although many art historians are working on developing its contemporary art history, an overview of the Korean contemporary art history timeline is untethered because the field has yet to build a coherent history. Yet, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA), has been holding various exhibitions that show the development process of the country’s modern and contemporary art.
The MMCA has held numerous exhibitions offering an overview of Korean art, including the Modern Korean Art Exhibition for the Past Sixty Years (Korean: 한국근대미술60년) held in 1972, 100 Years of Korean Art (광복 60주년기념 한국미술100년) held from 2005 through 2006, Korean Art from the Museum Collection: Grand Narrative (한국현대미술 거대서사) from 2012 through 2013, and Artists in Their Times: Korean Modern and Contemporary Art (시대를 보는 눈: 한국근현대미술) from 2020 through 2022.
The MMCA marked its 50th anniversary in 2019, and this year is the 10th anniversary of the Seoul branch and the fifth anniversary of the Cheongju branch. In commemoration of this marking year, the MMCA Cheongju is presenting an exhibition entitled All about Exhibition (전시의 전시) until July 30 that looks back on the four exhibitions held at the museum under the theme of “commemoration.”
Among the four exhibitions introduced at the All about Exhibition was the 100 Years of Korean Art (광복 60주년기념 한국미술100년) exhibition, which was held in two parts from 2005 to 2006. Only the first part is presented at the All about Exhibition in Cheongju.
The exhibition 100 Years of Korean Art was presented in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan in 1945. It was an important exhibition that contributed to the modern art history of Korea. By examining the past 100 years of Korean art history, from the fall of the Joseon Dynasty, the Japanese invasion, and liberation, to the April Revolution in 1960, the exhibition established the identity of modern art in Korea.
Artworks such as Kim Gwan-ho’s Sunset (1916), the first significant nude painting in Korea, and Lee Qoede’s Self-Portrait in Long Blue Coat, 1948~49 (두루마기 입은 자화상), are on view at the All about Exhibition in Cheongju.
Other exhibitions at the MMCA examined the development of Korean contemporary art.
An exhibition that predates the 100 Years of Korean Art exhibition is the Modern Korean Art Exhibition for the Past Sixty Years, which was held from June 27 to July 26, 1972. The exhibition focused on the history of modern art in Korea, covering a period of 60 years since the 1900s, and is an important exhibition that provides insights into the foundation of Korean contemporary art.
Modern Korean Art Exhibition for the Past Sixty Years is regarded as the museum’s first exhibition to focus on modern Korean art. It is considered the foundation upon which the museum established its own collection and was the museum’s first exhibition that invited 15 art experts to evaluate modern artworks through a screening process. In addition, the exhibition provided an opportunity to identify the whereabouts of various artworks that were previously unknown by bringing them together in one place.
Modern Korean Art Exhibition for the Past Sixty Years was a large-scale exhibition with a total of 526 artworks, including 188 ink wash paintings, 252 oil paintings, 29 sculptures, and 57 calligraphies. The museum has steadily collected many artworks from the exhibition, and some of the works that are considered to be the main collections of the MMCA are Kim Whanki’s Rondo (1938), thought to be Korea’s first abstract painting; Park Soo-Keun’s Grandfather and Grandson (1960), the artist’s most representative artwork; and Lee Jung Seop’s Tugye (1955).
The exhibition Korean Art from the Museum Collection: Grand Narrative focused on a more recent era and highlighted contemporary artworks by Korean artists. The exhibition was a two-series exhibition held from May 1, 2012, through July 14, 2013, that showcased the museum’s collections. It reflected the discourses that shaped Korean contemporary art from the period following the Korean War to the 1990s.
While many works in the 1950s applied traditional Korean cultural elements, the works created during the economic boom of the 1970s reflected the nation’s desire to establish the identity of Korea through art. In the 1980s, artists sought to form collectives and groups, and in the 1990s, aspects of contemporary art changed in response to the rapidly evolving Korean society, such as internationalization, mass media development, popular culture, and consumerism.
The exhibition, divided into parts 1 and 2, showcased new media, installations, Korean painting, oil painting, and sculptural works by various Korean contemporary artists, including Park Seo-Bo, Yun Hyong-keun, Kim Kulim, Sungwoo Chun, Lim Oksang, Nam June Paik, and Park Hyunki, as well as Osang Gwon, Yeondoo Jung, and Park Chan Kyong.
Among the most recent exhibitions looking at the history of modern and contemporary art in Korea, Artists in Their Times: Korean Modern and Contemporary Art, held at the Gwacheon branch from July 21, 2020, to September 18, 2022, cannot be left out. The exhibition examined the major currents of 120 years of modern and contemporary art in Korea, with a focus on the museum’s collections of approximately 300 major artworks and 200 archival materials.
The exhibition, divided into 15 sections, went through the histories of Japanese occupation, liberation, the Korean War, national division, the April 19 Revolution, the Yushin regime, and the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, leading into the era of globalization. The works of the early 1900s considered the transformation of traditional art, while oil painting was introduced to the country. After the Korean War, artists shifted their focus away from the question of depicting reality. Later on, the art scene formed a rivalry between abstract art and Minjung art styles. In the 1990s, postmodern discourses such as multiculturalism and feminism emerged, and in the mid-2000s, the art trend shifted toward the expansion of multidisciplinary arts and expressions.
Artists in Their Times: Korean Modern and Contemporary Art was organized in collaboration with researchers specializing in each historical period to reveal the flow of Korean art history by examining how the works have changed in response to Korea’s evolving social situation.