SOUTH KOREA CONTEMPORARY ART INTERVIEW CURATOR
Art Radar recently spoke with German-born curator Tobias Berger, who currently holds the position of Chief Curator at the Nam June Paik Art Center, about the Center’s exhibition “The Penguin that goes to the Mountain”. During this interview, Berger also revealed a few of his observations on living and working in the Korean art environment.
Korean art has always been in the shadow of Japanese and Chinese artistic success, often “dismissed as a mere conduit between the two mega cultures.” This may be because few of the local magazines, exhibition catalogues and other art texts produced on Korean contemporary art are available in English. As Berger states, “There are none. They’re all in Korean. There’s nothing really good in English.” And while the local art scene is perhaps not on par with what can be experienced in these neighbouring countries, Berger notes that the art that is being produced in Korea is of a very high quality, due to good art schools, a diversity of art spaces, talented pioneers and governmental support.
As a European who formerly lived and worked in the Hong Kong art scene, how do you find the South Korean art scene compares?
“The Seoul art scene is probably the most sophisticated art scene in Asia. It has really good independent spaces, good commercial galleries, interesting art schools and good museums. It has this whole pyramid of different art spaces, exhibition possibilities, and it has a lot of really good and wonderful artists. That level of depth and the level of different kinds of art spaces is incomparable. Certainly in Beijing [you] have galleries, but you don’t have any independent spaces, and in Tokyo it’s also very different.”
How do you keep up to date with the Korean art scene?
That is a problem because it’s all in Korean and it’s very difficult to keep up [with]. I mean, you just go to the 10-15 [art] spaces once a month … and you talk to your friends and your colleagues that go to the big exhibitions…. You just have to look at how it is. There was a [recent] survey show called “Bright Future” but it only had twelve artists.
Tell us about the art school system in Korea? How does it differ from other places?
It’s the most sophisticated [system] because it had some good pioneers [and] a lot of governmental help. [South Korea] has some good art schools and it has a lot of good artists that have studied overseas and come back. This allowed a lot of critical discourse and [there were] a lot of magazines. That allowed the art scene to grow well and in the right way.
Korean art is becoming popular with international collectors. “Korean Eye“, for example, was shown at The Saatchi Gallery in London earlier this year. Can you tell us why you think this is happening now?
“Here in South Korea you don’t feel that there’s much happening. The Korean scene is nothing compared to what’s happening in China…. On the one side, these shows, where this is popular or that is popular, don’t really mean a thing. There is a lot of good art in South Korea and the quality of the art is really on a high level, because art education has been good for 15-20 years. A lot of people are educated in Europe and America and have very good support and certainly output good quality art…. I mean, you don’t want to buy or you don’t want to show an artist because he’s Korean, you want to show an artist because he’s a good artist.”
- Follow “The Penguin” to the mountain – Tobias Berger on the NJPAC Show – August, 2010 – in an earlier interview we speak with Berger about curating for NJPAC’s “The Penguin”
- Writer Steven Pettifor talks about the old and the new in Thai contemporary art – Art Radar Interview – August, 2010 – an interview with Steven Pettifor about the Thai contemporary art scene
- Busan Biennale pushes for new discoveries in contemporary Asian art – artist list – August, 2010 – a short summary of the Busan Biennial, includes a list of participants
- Korean National Museum of Contemporary Art Young Korean Artists retrospective spans 30 years – May, 2010 – an informative primer on this exhibition
- Collector Ciclitira, founder of Korean Eye, makes big plans for Korean art – June 2009 – a summary of a podcast from Arttactic about the Korean contemporary art
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