The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) presents the 10-Year Path of Korea Artist Prize exhibition until March 26, 2023. This year, the MMCA’s Korea Artist Prize, an award and exhibition program, looks back on its past ten years as a video archive exhibition to take the award program to a new level.
The MMCA Seoul’s 10-Year Path of Korea Artist Prize exhibition will be held until March 26, 2023. Video archives of a total of forty artists and their artworks and the behind-the-scenes process will be on display alongside past exhibition materials in the museum’s three galleries.
The MMCA’s Korea Artist Prize is the largest art award program held by a Korean art museum. Each year, two screening processes are conducted to select the most promising artists with the potential to present a vision for Korean contemporary art. The selected four artists will receive a 40 million KRW grant to present new works for the Korea Artist Prize exhibition, as well as the opportunity to film a documentary that highlights the artistic practices of each artist with SBS, a Korean broadcasting company. The final screening process is done during the exhibition, and the winner is awarded a monetary prize of 10 million KRW.
The award program succeeds the Artist of the Year exhibition, which was held between 1995 and 2010. This previous program was carried out by the museum’s in-house members through an intense process of selecting, screening, and announcing the winners. To gain a more impartial system, the program was reformed after a two-year hiatus and revived in 2012 with the SBS Cultural Foundation’s long-term sponsorship under the title Korea Artist Prize.
The Korea Artist Prize was modeled after the UK’s most renowned annual art prize, the Turner Prize, which is hosted by Tate and was established in 1984. The Turner Prize has been making new efforts to keep up with the evolution of social values. In 2015, the prize was awarded to an architecture and design firm for the first time in its history. In 2017, the requirement that artists be under the age of 50 was eliminated. In 2019 and 2020, all nominees became joint winners, and in 2021, the prize had its first all-collective list.
The MMCA’s Korea Artist Prize will also reorganize its system to meet the needs of the present. The museum will address issues raised by the art community and the general public and develop a new operating method.
Regarding the award program, several concerns were addressed. First, the award program has been losing its authority due to its inflexible management system and stale content. Some former Korea Artist Prize exhibitions were said to fail to mirror the social and cultural issues of the time and reflect meaningful artistic values.
Second, the improvement of the selection process was also mentioned. The exhibition, which showcases the artworks of the four shortlisted artists, stirs up competition among the participants, which does not correspond to the purpose of the award. There were also comments regarding the different external judges who nominate the winner within a short period of time each year. In this process, it is challenging for the judges to comprehend the ecosystem of the Korean contemporary art world and the artistic practices of each artist. There were also allegations of a bias toward a specific genre.
The art community also mentioned the need to reconsider the award program’s obligation to advocate for diverse voices. One of its former exhibitions was deemed insufficient in embracing the diversity of society and shedding light on inequities. There were voices arguing that the program needed to increase social awareness through contemporary art.
Through 10-Year Path of Korea Artist Prize, the MMCA intends to reflect on the mission of the prize, its impact on our society, and its reasons for continuing the program. Based on these considerations, the museum will examine the distance that exists between contemporary art and the general public and look for the point where the two meet, as well as examine the purpose of promoting contemporary art and its significance in today’s society.
The next Korea Artist Prize winner will be announced early the following year using an improved system that addresses the issues raised over the past decade.