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All Eyes on Korea brings old and new to London

The host city of the upcoming Olympic Games continues to embrace “All Eyes on Korea,” the 100-day Korean culture summer festival, bringing together an unprecedented scope of cultural events, exhibitions, and lectures that encompass the traditional and modern sides of Korea.

Marking the recent opening of two exhibitions held as part of “All Eyes on Korea,” Kim Ock Rang, Director of Kokdu Museum, and Ralph Rugoff, Director of Hayward Gallery, took over the podium at the Korean Cultural Center UK (KCCUK) to deliver their own insights with special reference to the participating artists and artifacts on display.

Companions for the Journey to the Other World: discovering masterful funerary figures and artisan spirit

Beginning on July 11, the KCCUK presents an unconventional exhibition showcasing traditional funeral biers alongside intricately carved wooden figures. “Funerary Figures: Companions for the Journey to the Other World” not only welcomes viewers to find out about funeral rites but also reveals a great deal about how traditional Korean communal society embraced death and the notion of the afterlife.

Korean Funerary Figures: Companions for the Journey to the Other World (photos courtesy of KCCUK)

The colorful funerary figurines also known as kkokdu (or kokdu as used for the name of the museum) take various forms of humans, animals, or supernatural beings like dragons or phoenixes and were used to decorate the funeral bier, keeping the deceased company and take care of his or her journey to the other world. The historic artifacts on display at the KCCUK were carefully selected from nearly 20,000 pieces of Kokdu Museum’s collection.

Marking the opening on July 11, Kim Ock Rang gave a special lecture, talking about her affection towards the funerary figurines along with her life story and three decades of art management.

“I have never seen such a concise, systematic, shapely curated exhibition featuring a Korean funerary bier since I went to the National Folk Museum of Korea during my visit to Korea,” said Jan Stuart, keeper of the Asian Department of the British Museum, at the opening ceremony. “We would like to plan a special exhibition inside the British Museum in the future.”

(left) The opening ceremony of the special exhibition at the KCCUK on November 11 surged with crowds; (right) Lie Sang-bong who arrived in London on July 24 for the fashion show/gala reception “Korea Shining Bright” on July 30, looks around the exhibit “Korean Funerary Figures: Companions for the Journey to the Other World” (photos courtesy of KCCUK).

The undoubted highlight of the exhibition is the large-scale funeral bier adorned with dragons and phoenix paintings. Visitors to the KCCUK may also enjoy the beautiful photographs by artist Koo Bohnchang, compiled and reborn into an animated video by Song Jae-yeon.

Dr. Charlotte Horlyck, a Korean Art History lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, will give a lecture on September 3 as part of the Global Korea Lectures at the KCCUK. The lecture “Funeral Figurines: A unique art form of traditional Korea” will explore the Korean funeral rites in relation to the customs of the funeral figurines and bier. The exhibition runs until September 8. For more information, please visit:

Korean contemporary art meets the world in London

Weeks after the joyful outdoor installations by artist Choi Jeong-hwa were unveiled at the Southbank Centre to embellish the grey multi-level architecture, a witty set of artwork by Kim Beom is taking over the Hayward Gallery Project Space on July 17, for the second half of the summer. “The School of Inversion,” Kim’s first solo exhibition in Britain, explores the subjects of school and learning featuring the artist’s humorously executed mixed media installations, sections of drawings, and video.

Kim, who has meticulously transformed some of the most banal objects into “curated” artistic creations, stretches the conventional perception and limits of reality by referencing social awareness, which is often challenged by the artist’s imagination and subconscious creativity.

Audiences will soon be inspired by the artist’s objects and images elaborated around the themes of existence and misidentification, reality and manipulation, among others. The artist invites viewers to become actively engaged in the multi-layered projection of images and thoughts, implicitly conveying continued reflection on Korean society with a sense of humor.

(left) “The School of Inversion,” the first UK solo exhibit by Korean artist Kim Beom, runs until September 2 at the Hayward Gallery Project Space. An exhibition not to be missed, if you are around London. (right) Hayward Gallery Director Ralph Rugoff delivers a lecture on contemporary Korean art with special reference to the participating artists from “All Eyes on Korea,” and other artists the gallery has worked with including Do Ho Suh (Suh Do Ho) (photos courtesy of KCCUK).

“Korean artists have excellent tastes of design,” remarked Ralph Rugoff, Director of the Hayward Gallery, while recognizing Korean artists’ incredible attention to detail and refined designs during a session of the Global Korea Lectures at the KCCUK on July 13.

The veteran expert in contemporary art gave his own perspectives on contemporary Korean art, while introducing artists who participated in the 100-day “All Eyes on Korea” event, including Choi Jeong-hwa, Kim Beom, and Lee Bul, accompanied with detailed narration on their oeuvre.

Also on view from July 23 is a new public art commission, “Written in Soap: A Plinth Project” by Korean artist Meekyoung Shin (Shin Meekyoung). Shin, who showcased a solo exhibition at Haunch of Venison, is relatively well-known in the London art scene for her iconic reinterpretation of Eastern and Western historic relics with soap. This time, she has brought the equestrian statue back in Cavendish Square in central London for the first time in 144 years. The sculpture installation rendered in a seemingly fragile material will last for one year, weathering in the wind and rain and expressing a sense of dislocation and transformation.

“Written in Soap: A Plinth Project” is a new public art commission by Korean artist Meekyoung Shin on display in Cavendish Square in central London for one year starting on July 23, 2012. The sculpture revived the equestrian statue on the plinth for the first time in 144 years (photos courtesy of KCCUK).

A number of other exhibitions offering an arresting glimpse into Korean contemporary art are taking place at multiple venues across the Olympic city. Kim Sooja, Jung Yeondoo (Yeondoo Jung), and seven other media artists are sending their newest works for a collection to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Supported by worldwide Olympic partner Samsung, the Samsung Olympic Games Media Art Collection communicates the Olympic ideals and legacy through the prism of varied international perspectives and visual narratives.

Following the success of past years’ exhibitions, the Saatchi Gallery in London once again brings back the “Korean Eye” series, starting July 26. The fourth edition, which presents the largest survey of up-and-coming contemporary Korean art to date in the city, runs until September 23.

By Hwang Dana Staff Writer

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