In recent years, K-pop has evolved from a regional subculture into a cultural phenomenon that is breaking records on international music charts.
Today’s South Korean culture is based on a hybrid of various cultures and ideologies that includes Confucianism and totalitarianism, colonial experiences, liberal democracy, and capitalism. This legacy has influenced the evolution of K-pop culture and while such a mixture of cultures in idol songs embraces and connects people from diverse backgrounds, they also reflect various sociocultural issues within Korean society.
The Daegu Art Museum’s Y Artist Project is an annual exhibition program that aims to address the different cultural characteristics of today’s Korea through the works of young artists. This year, the museum is presenting Funky-Function, which explores K-pop culture through 16 works by 6 emerging contemporary artists, ranging from installations and videos to paintings.
The six participating artists, Wonje Kang, Minhee Kim, Dew Kim, Sungsil Ryu, Yun Choi, and HaNeyl Choi, highlight the complex phenomena surrounding contemporary Korean popular culture and uncover the hidden meaning behind K-pop.
For artist Wonje Kang (b. 1984), painting is a process rather than a result, and he creates works that reflect his perception of life through repetitive artistic practices.
For example, the artwork Black Star, which covers the entire wall, is a collection of drawings drawn with a black ballpoint pen on white paper. Each piece of paper contains blank spaces in the form of stars or the moon. The combined drawings depict a starry night sky. The reality in this work is that the dark areas are filled with lines while the shining stars are left empty. A star represents aspirations and goals, but these are unsubstantial, just like the empty stars in Kang’s works. According to Kang, what constitutes substance is not a star but the process that leads to a star.
The Selected/Unselected painting is a collection of cutout paintings from a canvas and an installation comprised of leftover pieces. The pieces, randomly selected according to the artist’s personal taste, are framed in a smaller size and arranged as a mosaic on the wall. The remaining items are hung on a rack-like installation. The action of choosing also creates the unselected, but the artist’s works remind us that the act of being selected does not apply to everything and is merely a process of a particular case.
Wonje Kang has had solo exhibitions at ERD Gallery (Busan, 2022), Bongsan Cultural Center (Daegu, 2021), and ERD Gallery (Seoul, 2019). He has participated in group exhibitions at Suchang Youth Mansion (Daegu, 2022), POSCO Art Museum (Seoul, 2018), Kunstraum (London, 2018), Crypt Gallery (London, 2017), Youngeun Museum of Contemporary Art (Gwangju, 2015), and Open Space Bae (Busan, 2014).
Minhee Kim (b. 1991) creates paintings using images of female characters from 1980s Japanese manga and anime. These animes were made in the past, but they portrayed the present in a futuristic setting. In addition, the figures reflect the ideal female characters as defined by the society of the time while retaining a strong sense of self. Intrigued by these elements of the genre, Kim reconstructs these images through digital filtering and then transfers them to canvas to give them the thick texture of oil paintings.
The artist, who has always been fascinated with female divas and K-pop girl groups, is presenting five works at the Daegu Art Museum. Instead of directly depicting K-pop, the artist drew attention to certain aspects of the K-pop industry and expressed them in her own visual language.
K-pop idol groups usually have their own unique universe that crosses the virtual and real worlds or brings back a retro concept. According to the artist, these characteristics of K-pop idols resemble situations from films. Kim connects this to a scene from the 1996 film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, which depicts a brief love story. Kim turns the scene into a never-ending story by capturing the image as a painting.
The artist is also interested in the manner in which these idols and anime characters are consumed on our devices, usually smartphones and tablets. Kim transfers the images to a large canvas and enlarges the anime character’s face to create a unique visual effect.
Artist Minhee Kim has held solo exhibitions at Cylinder (Seoul, 2021), Outsight (Seoul, 2020), and Hapjungjigu (Seoul, 2018). She has also participated in group exhibitions at various institutions and galleries, including Place Mak 3 (Seoul, 2021), BGA (Seoul, 2021), Museum Head (Seoul, 2021), SAGA (Seoul, 2021), Factory 2 (Seoul, 2020), and Weekend (Seoul, 2019).
Dew Kim (b. 1985) creates sculptures, installations, videos, and performances that incorporate subcultural elements such as pop culture as well as visual art, religion, queerness, and masochism.
Kim has created multiple personalities, such as Dew Kim, Huh, Need-you, and HornyHoneydew, to evoke feelings of anxiety and tension through the unfolding of various narratives. In particular, Kim creates works that elicit strong emotions by disturbing the dichotomous structure inherent to the rationally accepted categories of the present day.
As HornyHoneydew, Kim filmed a K-pop-inspired music video and released an album as one of his previous artworks, Purple Kiss (2018). In the artwork, he satirizes the dualistic norms of heterosexuality in Korean society. At Funky-Function, Kim realized that shamanic power resides in the intense and captivating idol music and choreography, and he presented installation and video works that combine K-pop and religion at the museum.
Dew Kim has had solo exhibitions at Fragment Gallery (Moscow, 2021), Osisun (Seoul, 2021), Outsight (Seoul, 2020), Temi Art Center (Daejeon, 2019), and Boan 1942 (Seoul, 2021). He has participated in numerous group exhibitions at Alternative Space LOOP (Seoul, 2021), d/p (Seoul, 2020), the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (Seoul, 2020), and the Ilmin Museum of Art (Seoul, 2019). Kim has also participated in performances at Theatre Sinchon (Seoul, 2021) and the Asia Culture Center (Gwangju, 2019).
Artist Sungsil Ryu (b. 1993) created a fictional universe that satirizes Korean society with multiple personalities. Mimicking low-budget B-grade videos with flashy images and texts, Ryu depicts the contemporary media environment and Korean society’s obsession with money in a manner that is both bizarre and hilariously addictive.
In her works, the artist sometimes appears as BJ Cherry Jang, Natasha, or Dae Wang Lee. In this exhibition, Ryu focused on the process by which K-pop content is produced and consumed by fans, extending this into a new story about Dae Wang Lee, the co-founder of Big King Travel, who wanted to make a lot of money by creating illegal tourist packages for the elderly. At the museum, Dae Wang Lee releases a music video commemorating one of his businesses, “Daewang Air,” and provides a satirical account of Lee’s entry into the entertainment industry.
Sungsil Ryu has had solo exhibitions at Atelier Hermès (Seoul, 2022) and Post Territory Ujeongguk (Seoul, 2019). She has participated in group exhibitions at institutions and galleries such as SongEun (Seoul, 2021), the Museum of Contemporary Art, Busan (Busan, 2020), the Daelim Museum (Seoul, 2020), the CAN Foundation (Seoul, 2020), Boan 1942 (Seoul, 2019), Hapjungjigu (Seoul, 2018), Platform L (Seoul, 2018), and the Ilmin Museum of Art (Seoul, 2018).
Artist Yun Choi (b. 1989) twists and transforms ordinary and banal images into paintings, installations, videos, and performances. The artist excavates the collective beliefs and ideas and reveals the foundation of internalized power hidden beneath the prosaic images that can be easily found in public spaces and popular culture.
At the Daegu Art Museum, Choi combines sound art and video works to demonstrate how market logic has eroded the Korean pop culture industry. By combining images derived from Korean tradition, the Minjung movement, and K-culture, Choi conveys the complex emotions of pride, shame, enthusiasm, and avoidance. Choi brings to the exhibition the stereotypical image of K-pop based on the artist’s desire to liberate all the Ks from Korea.
Artist Yun Choi has held solo exhibitions at Doosan Gallery Seoul (Seoul, 2020) and Art Sonje Center Project Space (Seoul, 2017). Choi has also participated in group exhibitions at institutions and galleries such as the Asia Culture Center (Gwangju, 2020), Arko Art Center (Seoul, 2019), Busan Biennale (Busan, 2018), Gwangju Biennale Pavilion Project (Gwangju, 2018), SeMA Buk Seoul Museum of Art (Seoul, 2017), Kukje Gallery (Seoul, 2017), and Seoul Museum of Art (Seoul, 2016).
As the Internet is transforming our physical world into a virtual one, HaNeyl Choi (b. 1991) contemplates the present and future of sculpture. His works break the existing perception of sculpture by disassembling and recombining various materials and objects. At the same time, Choi challenges the conventional orders, cultural hierarchy, and gender issues prevalent in Korean society.
Choi combines sculpture and music in his work at the museum. Thus, checking the viewing hours is a must to appreciate Choi’s artwork. He incorporated John Cage’s composition, 4’33”, which consisted of ambient sound, into the sculpture. Like idol stars, the idol sculpture is hidden behind a curtain and can be viewed in its entirety by scanning the QR code. Choi attempted to reveal the way idol culture is consumed while also exploring a novel sculpture technique.
HaNeyl Choi held his solo exhibitions in Hapjungjigu (Seoul, 2017), Gallery 2 and P21 (Seoul, 2022), Arario Museum in Space (Seoul, 2021), and Commonwealth & Council (Los Angeles, 2018). Recent group exhibitions have been hosted by the Ilmin Museum of Art (Seoul, 2022), the Buk Seoul Museum of Art (Seoul, 2022), the Museum of Contemporary Art, Busan (Busan, 2022), Gallery Hyundai (Seoul, 2021), the Leeum Museum of Art (Seoul, 2021), and the Doosan Gallery (Seoul, 2021).
The Daegu Art Museum’s Y Artist Project is an exhibition program that aims to address the different cultural characteristics of today’s Korea. Since 2012, the Daegu Art Museum has been promoting the Y Artist Project to discover and nurture young artists (aged 39 and under). In 2021, after a series of transformations, the Y Artist Project began hosting themed projects to examine the trends and new possibilities of contemporary art through the works of young artists.