NORTH KOREAN ART BEIJING GALLERIES
Chinese-based Leap magazine takes us to the 798 Art Zone in Beijing where North Korean-run gallery, Mansudae Art Studio Museum makes a startling appearance. Though Leaps‘ attempts to meet the director were fruitless, we still learn many surprising facts about North Korean contemporary art.
Beijing gallery Mansudae unique outside North Korea
According to the article, Mansudae’s Beijing outlet, Mansudae Art Studio Museum, is managed by the North Korean government-mandated Mansudae Creation Company, run under the guidance of Kim Jong-il himself and “responsible for [the country’s] highest profile public artworks.” The company’s studio in North Korean capital city, Pyongyang is a DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea)-approved tourist attraction; “selling artwork has long proven one of the states most hassle-free means of generating foreign exchange (the Euro is the preferred currency).”
Mansudae Art Studio Museum is the first branch of the Mansudae Creation Company to be located outside of North Korea. It sells a variety of state-approved artworks – styles include bronze sculpture, oil, watercolour, ink and “a North Korean speciality that involves painting with powder made from ground jewels” – as well as stamps and postcards that promote the DPRK’s positive diplomatic ties. Leap explains the typical North Korean painting style:
North Korean artists ‘write reality’ (as xieshi, the verb for realist creation, literally translates), and do not shy away from laborious tasks like painting leaves on a tree, or every hair on a tiger’s back. There are no shortcuts in theme or technique, and the lack of abstract or experimental styles make the work palatable to [a variety of] collectors.
Who buys North Korean art?
In the article, Leap identifies a number of potential audiences for artwork from the country:
- Westerners looking for “politically exotic kitsch”
- Mainstream Chinese art lovers who lap up the Soviet-influenced socialist realist works
- Serious Chinese collectors who are looking for investment opportunities, and are attracted to the “romanticism” and “attention to detail” inherent in North Korean art and its competitive pricing
- Leaders of African nations who commission Mansudae to create “ambitious [utilitarian-styled] monument and memorial projects” at cheap rates
Exhibitions of North Korean art have been popping up around the world lately. Paintings from Pyongyang-based Korean Art Gallery were exhibited at Vienna’s MAK Museum in 2010, from May to September, and early this year (2011) an exhibition of Mansudae Creation Company-produced graphics, embroidery and mosaics ran in Moscow’s Winzavod Gallery. Both exhibitions stirred controversy, with people questioning the morality of selling (or buying) overtly propagandist artwork produced in a country many say is struggling under an oppressive regime.
Would you consider buying artworks produced in North Korea? Why or why not? Leave a comment below.
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