South Korean political art – LA art review

As the first group exhibition introducing the wide-ranging work of South Korean political art to an American audience, Being Political Popular: South Korean Art at the Intersection of Popular Culture and Democracy, 1980-2010 showcases 17 artists and art collectives and more than 40 artworks. Organized by Seoul-based curator Sohl Lee, this exhibition attempts a historiographical investigation and epistemological exploration of artistic practices as a particular sort of public culture, one that benefits from the languages of both popular culture and political resistance.



For three decades, South Korean society has experienced a dramatic political paradigm shift from an authoritarian regime to democratic polity. During this time, art was a productive site of social imagination, with artists giving tangible and material forms to the seemingly universal notions of democratic participation, public culture and civil society. The artists featured in the exhibition investigate the questions of politics, collectivity and social engagement through diverse mediums, including comics, painting, woodblock print, collage, photography, installation, performance and video. Specifically, the exhibition situates art within South Korean popular culture—a discourse that came to maturity alongside the country’s democratization—now touted as the Korean Wave (hallyu) due to its status as a global cultural phenomenon. The artworks’ interaction with popular culture is clearly demonstrated here—on occasion art both drove and formulated the very cultural ethos of the time. While complicating the division between political resistance and popular entertainment, Being Political Popular seeks to recuperate the aesthetics of humor, satire and pleasure latent in examples of the most radical Korean political art.


This exhibition presents a medley of work by Choi Byung-soo, Kim Dong-won, Labor News Collective, Park Jae-dong, Kim Min-gi, Hong Sung-dam, Hein-kuhn Oh, siren eun young jung, Mixrice, Minouk Lim, Chan-kyong Park, Seung Woo Back, listen to the city, Park Bul-dong, Nam Gung Ho Seok, Sangdon Kim and Minari and Hack.

Being Political Popular also places today’s artists in conversation with the 1980s minjung art and vice versa. This new genealogy fully takes into account the shifts in the visual technologies and mediums from the 1980s (i.e. comics, funeral painting, woodblock prints, theater) to today (i.e. photography, installation, performance, video), effectively interlinked in the following six themes: “Sites of Resistant Collectivity” on the location of political resistance, “Reenacting History” on the trope of reenactment and repetition in pursuing future revolution, “Between One and All” on previously invisible narratives of counterpublics, “Seoul Tour/Pyongyang Express” on the potential of spatial displacement in tourism, “The Past is the Future” on the fantasy of heterotemporality in mass communication, and “Play to Fly” on the playfulness of political protests.

The exhibition catalogue is published in both English and Korean. Over 200 page-long, an extensive curatorial essay, with full-spectrum color illustrations of all works on display, five artist statements, and three academic essays by historian Namhee Lee (UCLA), musicologist Chang-nam Kim (Sungkonghoe University), and art critic Wan-kyung Sung (Inha University).



Opening reception is held at 6:00-9:00 p.m. September 20, 2012—the public is welcome and admission is always free.


Being Political Popular: South Korean Art at the Intersection of Popular Culture and Democracy, 1980-2010 is held in conjunction with an international academic symposium (September 20-22, 2012) and a film screening of both fiction and documentary independent production in South Korea.


The film screenings include the following films*:
Kings of Pigs (dir. Yeon Sang-ho, 2011) Q&A with the director—5:00 p.m., September 20 Miracle on Jongno Street (dir. Lee Hyuk-Sang, 2011)—7 p.m., September 21

No Name Stars (dir. Kim Tae-il, 2010)—3:30 p.m., September 22
The Journals of Musan (dir. Park Jung-bum, 2010)—7 p.m., September 22

* All films are shown at McCormick Screening Room, UC Irvine



The exhibition is co-sponsored by the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS), the Arts Council Korea (ARKO), the Critical Theory Emphasis, and the Department of East Asian Languages and Literature at University of California, Irvine.



University of California, Irvine; University Art Gallery (UAG)

712 Arts Plaza

Irvine, CA 92697
Check website for updates, gallery hours, holiday closings and directions.

(949) 824-9854


Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek is a Los Angeles-based arts enthusiast with twenty-five years' experience covering International Film Festivals and reviewing new Theatre, Film and Restaurants.


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