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MMCA's Renewed Korea Artist Prize Announced Four Finalists for 2023

The Korea Artist Prize, which has returned with a new system, has named Byungjun Kwon, Gala Porras-Kim, Kang Seung Lee, and Sojung Jun as the finalists for this year.

From left to right: Sojung Jun, Gala Porras-Kim, Kang Seung Lee, and Byungjun Kwon. Courtesy of MMCA.

There were no nominees for the Korea Artist Prize 2022, one of the largest art award programs in South Korea, organized by the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA) and sponsored by the SBS Cultural Foundation. Instead, the museum held the archive exhibition 10-Year Path of Korea Artist Prize, which reflected on the past decade.

Based on the museum’s exhibition program that ran from 1995 through 2010, the Korea Artist Prize was resumed in 2012 under the SBS Foundation’s long-term sponsorship. The program was reorganized to select one final winner among four candidates.

The final winners from 2012 to 2021 were Moon Kyungwon & Jeon Joonho, Kong Sung-Hun, Noh Suntag, Inhwan Oh, Song Sanghee, Mixrice (Yang Chul Mo, Cho Ji Eun), siren eun young jung, Jewyo Rhii, Lee Seulgi, and Choi Chan Sook.

The award program served as an opportunity to shed light on various Korean artists, but many problems were raised about its system and procedure: many felt that the idea of a national competition was demeaning to art; the final winners were skewed toward certain genres, such as installation and video art; and the criteria for selecting the steering committees as well as the candidates were opaque. Due to the loss of the award program’s authority, the public was growing indifferent to the award, and it was criticized for becoming merely an obligatory event with the absence of critical discourse. 

Exhibition view of "10-Year Path of Korea Artist Prize" at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA), Seoul (October 28, 2022 – March 26, 2023). Courtesy of MMCA.

After addressing the shortcomings of the award program last year, the Korea Artist Prize resumed in a new way, which included improvements to the screening method, increased funding, and a new exhibition format.

The initial selection is conducted through online screening to ensure that all artists are subjected to the same screening conditions. The judges consist of five external judges and the MMCA’s director and curator-in-charge, making a total of seven members. Additionally, the program will be supplemented with open programs such as workshops and reviews, which can strengthen the discourse on the works of participating artists during the Korea Artist Prize exhibition.

The funding for artwork production for the exhibition has been increased from 40 million KRW to 50 million KRW per artist, and both new and existing artworks will be exhibited together to provide a more comprehensive overview of the artistic practice of each participating artist.

Byungjun Kwon, Gala Porras-Kim, Kang Seung Lee, and Sojung Jun have been selected as finalists for the Korea Artist Prize 2023. The works of the four artists will be featured at the MMCA Seoul from October 20 through March 17, 2024. The final winner, who will receive an additional prize of 10 million KRW, will be announced in February 2024.

Byungjun Kwon. Courtesy of MMCA.

Byungjun Kwon (b. 1971) is a sound hardware researcher and new media artist who merges music, theater, and art. In the exhibition space, the artist presents the voices of minorities in our society through records with stereophonic sound or reproduces the tragic aspects of our society caused by technological development in a new way using sound technology.

Gala Porras-Kim. Courtesy of MMCA.

Based in Los Angeles, Korean-Colombian artist Gala Porras-Kim (b. 1984) utilizes archaeological or ethnographic artifacts to raise questions about the validity of modern-day knowledge and language ​​that museums speak of, such as taxonomy, preservation ethics, and cultural heritage values. Kim also reveals the vulnerability of man-made structures by analyzing the evolution of knowledge surrounding these objects.

Kang Seung Lee. Photo by Ruben Diaz. Courtesy of MMCA.

Kang Seung Lee (b. 1978), who works in Los Angeles and Korea, collects and studies various images, texts, and objects to discover hidden stories from mainstream art history and to visualize minority narratives of queer history from a new angle.

Sojung Jun. Courtesy of MMCA.

Working with various mediums such as video, sound, sculpture, and publishing, Sojung Jun (b. 1982) uniquely presents the stories of various individuals living today using video and literary elements. The artist reconstructs the stories of a dancer living in a forest, piano tuners, and divers as references to blur the line between everyday life and art.

Yun Bummo, director of MMCA; Binna Choi, director of the Casco Art Institute; Aaron Cezar, general director of the Delfina Foundation, Nav Haq, associate curator of the Antwerp Museum of Contemporary Art (MHKA); Michelle Kuo, curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and Yuka Uematsu, curator of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Osaka were on the judging panel for this year’s Korea Artist Prize.

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