Kim Chung-up (1922-1988) is a pioneering figure in Korean modern architecture.
Art Radar profiles the work of Kim Chung-up and his life and legacy on the occasion of an exhibition commemorating the 30th anniversary of his death at The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gwacheon.
Korean modern architecture: a legendary figure
Kim Chung-up was born in 1922 in Pyongyang. Kim graduated from Pyongyang high school and entered Yokohama Higher School of Technology (now Yokohama National University), where he received an architecture education in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts style. After graduation, Kim worked at the Matsuda & Hirata Design office in Tokyo. In 1948 he returned to Korea and took on a position as an assistant professor of Architecture in the Department of Engineering at Seoul National University. With the outbreak of the Korean War, the second capital of Korea, Busan temporarily became the capital city. Kim Chung-up relocated to Busan and actively built up a strong network and interacted with various artists. From his position at the centre of the Korean arts and cultural community in Busan, he supported and collaborated with many artists for a long time.
In 1952, Kim had a chance to go to Venice as a member of the Korean representative team for the first international Artist Competition. In Venice, Kim got to know Le Corbusier and set off to Paris to work at Le Corbusier’s atelier for three years and two months from October 1952. In December 1955, Kim returned to Korea to establish the Kim Chung-up Architecture Research Institute in Seoul. In his institution, Kim began to design architecture that assembled modernism and Korean traditional elements and created projects like the main building of Busan National University and the Embassy of France in Korea. While Kim was actively working in Korea, he was deported to Paris after publishing a criticism of a government policy over the Gwangju Grand Housing Complex incident in 1971. Just before his deportation, Kim completed the Samil Building, which was his most renowned project and the tallest building in Seoul at the time.
Kim returned to Korea from France in 1978, when Korean society was going through rapid changes. Kim started to show works that concentrated on aspects of futurism and redefined his architecture by designing glass buildings. Kim Chung-up was the first architect in Korea who held his own architectural exhibition, and he was a person who understood and practised the cultural form of the exhibition early on. He considered architecture not as a building, but as a matter of discourse and proceeded to explore in depth the art medium. Unfortunately, most of his late years’ proposals, which dreamed of utopian ideals, were largely unrealised, and his final work, the World Peace Gate,commemorative of the 1988 Olympics, remained as incomplete and was finished after his death. In the year 2014, the Kim Chung-up Architecture Museum was opened as a result of Kim’s family donating most of the materials of Kim Chung-up Architectural Research Institute to Anyang City.
To commemorate the 30th anniversary of his death, The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gwacheon is holding “Kim Chung-up: Dialogue” an exhibition tracing Kim Chung-up’s life and legacy.
Globalism and Localism
Kim Chung-up, who introduced the formative language of modern architecture in Korea, wanted to realise ‘Korean modernism’ through his architecture. In his works, the two values of ‘globalism’ and ‘localism’ coexist. Through his experiences in Japan and France, it was inevitable that he encountered modern architecture, and he practised the philosophy and styles of modernism through his work and educational activities in Korea and abroad. In the meantime, he also explored Korean tradition by conducting the Cultural Heritage Management Bureau, researching the Antechamber of the Seokguram Grotto and planning the Gyeongju National Museum. After returning from Paris in 1956, with Kim Chung-up Architectural Institute, Kim created works that represent Korean modern architecture, such as the main building of Busan National University, the main building of Sogang University, the library of Konkuk University and the French embassy in Korea.
Artistic Thinking and Practice
Kim Chung-up pursued his career as an artist for a lifetime. This is also related to the demand of the period for an autonomous independence of architecture in Korean society, which lacked capital and technology after the Korean War. After returning from Paris in 1956, Kim devoted himself to promoting the concept of the architect as an artist through various activities like holding a solo exhibition, titled “Kim Chung-up Architectural Exhibition”, as the first architect and working as a judge for national exhibitions. In addition, he acted as a central figure in the culture and arts community by sponsoring artists’ exhibitions and their works through the network he had built in Busan after the liberation of Korea. Kim actively collaborated with artists through his projects, the French Embassy in Seoul and the Olympic World Peace Gate, and tried to build a total art by combining sculpture, stained glass and tapestry with architecture. He also produced an architecture documentary entitled Kim Chung-up Architecte with French filmmakers in 1971.
City and Desire
The works of Kim Chung-up were mainly read in their own formative aspects such as modern sculptures. However, in order to comprehend the complex and diverse post-workings of Kim Chung-up, it is necessary to understand the development conditions of rapidly growing Korean cities at that time. Kim Chung-up has built many buildings in the city centre, including the Samil building, Tokyu Hotel, and the headquarters of the Industrial Bank of Korea and Korea Rehabilitation Agency. He designed the cultural infrastructure for local cities that spread throughout the country in the 1980s. He designed new facilities such as obstetrics and gynaecology clinics, shopping centres and unique private residences in accordance with the changing social structure, and wanted to create an ideal community space for people.
Kim Chung-up’s buildings have been built for almost 50 years, and they are the starting point for various discussions on the memory of architecture, the history of architecture, urban regeneration, preservation and institution of modern cultural heritage.
The “Dialogue” exhibition at The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gwacheon, was designed to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Kim Chung-up’s death and was organised by the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, which has regularly planned contemporary Korean architecture exhibitions, in partnership with the Kim Chung-up Architecture Museum.
This retrospective is an exhibition that looks at the architect and his legacy in various contexts that have not been discussed in the past through the relationship between art and architecture, while keeping a distance from the superficial diagnosis and his almost mythical reputation. It is also the first large-scale exhibition to look at Kim Chung-up’s whole life, as an architect. It consists of a collection from the Kim Chung-up Architecture Museum, archives of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, materials borrowed from the landlord and newly commissioned photographic and video works.
Soo Jeong Kang
“Kim Chung-up: Dialogue” is on view from 30 August to 16 December 2018 at The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gwacheon, 313, Gwangmyeong-ro, Gwacheon, Gyeonggi-do 427-701, South Korea.
- 6 artist highlights from the 12th Gwangju Biennale – October 2018 – Art Radar takes a look at the 2018 Gwangju Biennale, entitled “Imagined Borders”
- Strokes of the Elysian Fields: Korean artist Christina Cho’s dreamlike landscapes – in conversation – October 2018 – Manila-based Korean artist Christina Cho speaks to Art Radar about the reimagined landscapes
- “2018 Title Match”: Korean artists Hyungkoo Lee and Min Oh at SeMA, Buk-Seoul Museum of Art, Seoul – October 2018 – Art Radar looks at the works of the two artists and their practices, and talks to the curator, Minkyung Yoo, to hear more about the show
- “Black Mat Oriole”: Korean artist Suki Seokyeong Kang on the invisible within society – in conversation – August 2018 – Art Radar profiles and talks to South Korean artist Suki Seokyeong Kang to find out more about her oeuvre
- Lee Kun-Yong: a pioneer of performance art in Korea – artist profile – March 2018 – Art Radar takes a look at the artist’s oeuvre