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Museum Exhibitions to Look Forward to in 2023:
Korean Contemporary Art Introduced by Leeum, SeMA, and MMCA

As the new year approaches, major art museums in Seoul have announced their exhibition schedule for 2023. The three major art museums—the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA), the Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA), and the Leeum Museum of Art (Leeum)—will be highlighting various Korean and international artists throughout the year. This article will focus on introducing Korean contemporary art exhibitions held at these museums.

The Leeum Museum of Art, which had been closed for about a year and seven months, reopened in October 2021 with a vision of being a more sustainable and inclusive art museum. The museum will continue to hold exhibitions that shed light on major artists and important themes, encompassing a wide spectrum of contemporary trends in 2023.

Exterior view of the Leeum Museum of Art, Seoul. Courtesy of the Samsung Foundation of Culture.

Leeum, which houses a wide art collection from traditional Korean art to contemporary art, will be holding solo exhibitions of Kim Beom, one of the mid-career contemporary artists in Korea, and Suki Seokyeong Kang, an important Korean artist, to give a multilayered view of their artworks.

김범(Kim Beom), ‘벽돌 벅 #1’ 1994, 캔버스와 실, 51x61cm ⓒ김범.

Kim Beom’s solo exhibition will be held from July to November 2023. The exhibition will be one of the artist’s largest retrospective solo exhibitions and will cover the world of his works for about 30 years, from the 1990s to the present. Kim uses a wide range of media, including drawing, painting, video, and installation, to add a humorous, irreverent approach to everyday objects. His works allow us to look at the world from a new perspective, breaking away from socially learned stereotypes and further revealing the fictitiousness of images in our daily lives. For example, in An Iron in the Form of a Radio, a Kettle in the Form of an Iron, and a Radio in the Form of a Kettle (2002), as the title explains, the function of each object is switched. And in the video work Spectacle (2010), the artist edited a television program to create a scene in which an antelope chases a cheetah. As such, his works suggest a new way of thinking by overturning the familiar order of the world.

Kim Beom (b. 1963) was the recipient of the Seoknam Art Prize (1996) and the second Hermès Foundation Missulsang (2001). He has participated in the Korean Pavilion at the 51st Venice Biennale and the eighth Istanbul Biennale and held numerous solo and group exhibitions at home and abroad. His works are included in numerous museum collections around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Houston Museum of Art, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Seoul Museum of Art, and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.

강서경(Suki Seokyeong Kang), ‘산 #21-01’, 2020-2021, 철에 도색, 실, 체인, 바퀴, 약 128.3x97.8x30cm. 사진 김상태. 강서경 스튜디오 제공.

Suki Seokyeong Kang’s works encompass sculpture, painting, video, installation, and performance to decipher dominant rules and values. She turns these rules into an artistic language, constructing a context to explore current concepts of individuality and freedom. Her work is also a record of emotions and thoughts created through certain abstract patterns. Kang brings various everyday objects and lays them on top of one another to find a balanced form or paints with repeated brush strokes to find a pattern between rules, emotions, and colors. Her works also incorporate texts and literature to convey certain thoughts and philosophical notions in her works.

Suki Seokyeong Kang (b. 1977), who majored in oriental painting, has held solo exhibitions globally, including in Korea, Taiwan, the United States, and Luxembourg. Kang has participated in various group exhibitions held at institutions including the Seoul Museum of Art (Seoul, 2022), the Pace Gallery (New York, 2021), the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (Chicago, 2021), and Arario Gallery (Cheonan, 2020). Her works were featured in the main exhibition of the 58th Venice Biennale (2019) and the 11th Gwangju Biennale (2016). Kang won the 13th SONGEUN Art Award (2013).

Ho-Am Art Museum, an affiliated institution of the Samsung Foundation of Culture together with the Leeum Museum of Art, will hold a collection exhibition introducing Leeum’s major collections, from postwar to contemporary art, from September 2023. In addition, prior to Leeum’s collection exhibition, a large-scale retrospective of artist Kim Whanki, a pioneer of Korean abstract art, will be held in Ho-Am from April 2023.

The Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA) will be holding its 12th Seoul Mediacity Biennale and a collection exhibition highlighting important works by Korean artists in the 1970s and 1980s.

Exterior view of Seoul Museum of Art, Seosomun Main Branch, Seoul. ⓒ Kim YongKwan

The last edition of the Seoul Mediacity Biennale was postponed to 2021 due to COVID-19. The 12th edition will be held from September 21 to November 19 this year at various locations in Seoul, including the SeMA Seosomun Main Building, Seoul Museum of History, and SeMA Bunker.

Over the past 25 years, the biennale has featured various contemporary artworks by artists from home and abroad that reflect the continuously changing urban and media environments, and the participating artists have worked with various experimental ideas that reflect contemporaneity.

View of the 12 th Seoul Mediacity Pre-Biennale II, “TERRAINFORMING” at SeMA Seosomun 3F Project Gallery (December 10 through December 11, 2022). Photo by Lee Euirock.

Rachael Rakes has been appointed as the artistic director of the 12th edition of the Seoul Mediacity Biennale. For the first time in the biennale’s history, the appointment of the artistic director for the 2023 edition was conducted through an international open call. Rakes served as the curator for public practice at BAK in the Dutch city of Utrecht from 2019 to this year and was the head curator and manager of the curatorial program at de Appel in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, from 2017 to 2019.

The upcoming edition is envisioned to connect the existing physical and geographical conditions with the aesthetics of media infrastructures and find alternative concepts of mediating and mapping. Prior to its opening, the biennale will hold public programs for international visitors during the KIAF and Frieze Seoul art fairs. The main theme and details, along with the list of participating artists, will be announced in February 2023.

As SeMA’s Art Archives (SeMA AA) is scheduled to open its doors in 2023, the new branch will hold a collection highlight exhibition showcasing archival materials of artists who changed the course of Korean contemporary art history in the 1970s and 1980s, including Kim Yong-Ik, Kim Tchah-Sup, and Rim Dong Sik.

The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) announced a brief exhibition schedule prior to its official press release, which will come out in January. Among the museum’s various exhibitions, three will mainly feature contemporary artworks by Korean or international artists. 

Exterior view of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA), Gwacheon Main Branch, Seoul. ⓒ MMCA.

The Young Korean Artists 2023, an exhibition program held every other year, is scheduled to be held at MMCA’s Gwacheon branch from April through August.

The exhibition program, which is in its 21st edition this year, has been running for 40 years. Its first event began in 1981, and in 1989, it changed its Korean title, which is still used today. The Young Korean Artists program aims to provide the opportunity to look into the trend in contemporary art by featuring the experimental artistic practices of young artists, to see the next generation of artists, and to create a dialogue between the artists and the viewers.

In the past, the Young Korean Artists program has contributed to fostering art movements led by young artist groups and collectives active in the 1990s, such as Metavox and Nanjido, and artists experimenting with Korean painting techniques and subjects.

From November 2023 to May 2024, the MMCA’s Gwacheon main branch will hold its first exhibition highlighting geometric abstraction. Geometric abstraction formed the mainstream of the Korean art scene in the late 1960s to the 1970s through artists such as Yoo Youngkuk, Lee Seung Jio, and Han Mook. The exhibition features works not only by these artists but also by contemporary artists such as Hong Seung-hye and Suki Seokyeong Kang, who inherited and interpreted the Korean geometric abstraction movement in various ways.

The Game Society (working title) exhibition, scheduled to be held from May to September, encompasses works by not only Korean artists but also other artists from various nationalities who reflect the recent virtual reality boom accelerated by technological development and the COVID-19 pandemic. The exhibition highlights realism in computer games and community-based experiences through the works by Harun Farocki, Cory Arcangel, Kim Heecheon, and Ram Han, as well as the Museum of Modern Art’s games collection.

Poster image of “Young Korean Artists 2021” at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Gwacheon. (May 28, 2021 - Sep 22, 2021). Courtesy of the MMCA.

The museum will also be highlighting Korean avant-garde art, which has been largely unexplored compared to other Korean modern and contemporary art movements in its history. The Avant-Garde: Experimental Art in South Korea, in the 1960s–1970s, is co-organized with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. The exhibition will be first held at the MMCA in May and will travel to the Guggenheim in September, remaining there through January 2024. Kang Soojung, Senior Curator at the MMCA, and Kyung An, Associate Curator of Asian Art at the Guggenheim. In August, the MMCA Seoul will be highlighting the works of Kim Kulim (b. 1936), one of the leading figures of the Korean Avant-Garde movement.

The MMCA Hyundai Motors series, an annual exhibition project of esteemed Korean artists, will also be exhibited from September 2023 to February 2024, with artists announced at a later date.

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