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Korean Experimental Art (Silheom Misul): Inside & Outside


This session delves into the realm of ‘Korean Experimental Art’ during the 1960s and 1970s, considering its connection to Korean modernization and urbanization, “international contemporaneity / Gukjejeok Dongsiseong,” and artistic vanguard. The postwar generation of Korean artists attempted Art Informel in the late 1950s, right after the Korean War (1950-1953).  However, the younger generation in the 1960s worked on going beyond artistic boundaries and expanding their horizons. The movement of ‘Korean Experimental Art’ was initiated through medium experiments by several groups of artists in the 1960s, giving rise to the practice of Happening, Performance Art, Event, Experimental Film, Earth Art, Conceptual Art, and more. During the 1970s, in the face of the authoritarian regime, Experimental Art meant more than just artistic experiments; it signaled the establishment of new foundations for the avant-garde, and international contemporaneity. As the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Korea (MMCA) and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York co-organize ‘Only the Young: Experimental Art in Korea, 1960s-1970s,’ which will travel to the Hammer Museum early next year, this session pays special attention to Korean ‘Silheom Misul’ with different points of views by Yeon Shim Chung, Doryun Chong and Harry C. H. Choi.

Hongik University professor Yeon Shim Chung moderates the discussion, providing insights into the trajectories of small collective groups such as Zero Group, Origin, AG (Abbreviation of Avant-Garde), The Fourth Group, and ST (abbreviation of Space and Time), indépendant exhibitions and others. Her talk, by looking closely at the AG exhibitions, deals with medium experiments and avant-garde (jeonwi in Korean) contexts in the changing socio-political and cultural perspectives. As a recent contributor to Ha Chong Hyun’s essay, Chung explores the changing urban metamorphosis of Seoul and its correlation with the swift mobility and material transformations in art. Doryun Chong, Deputy Director of M + in Hong Kong, has curated several postwar avant-garde exhibitions, including ‘Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde’ at MoMA, New York in 2012. He offers an analysis of the avant-garde international climate in Japan and East Asia during that period, particularly highlighting some cases in ‘International Contemporaneity.’ Harry C.H. Choi, who works on postwar Korean experimental film and media, talks about ‘Beyond the Record: The Camera in the Works of Sung Neung Kyung, Lee Seung Taek, and Kim Kulim.’ Within ongoing discourses on experimental artistic practices in midcentury South Korea, the role of film, video, and photography has primarily been considered through the mediums’ documentary capacity to record ephemeral works of art. Rather than theorize the mediums solely as means through which such performances and happenings could be archived, he explores how the works by the three artists make use of reproductive technologies. In fact, they rely on the conceptual and structural possibilities inherent within the mediums.