On the last Wednesday of every month, the Museum of Contemporary Art has free admission so we decided to spend a lazy afternoon there. I love art museums and this was very different from others I have been to. I was expecting to learn more about Korean pop culture through native artists’ pieces, but barely got to witness any of that.
The top three floors were dedicated to life size exhibits where each room showcased or acted as the artist’s work. One my favorites was this room that was literal floor to ceiling neon graffiti art.
Another one of our favorites, after the fact, was this room where everything was bright white and the exhibit was nameless. Upon entering, the curator made you take off your shoes (not untypical of most Korean places) and put on a face mask. Then we were allowed into this curtain of white shoe string-like tassels. At first you think it’s just a curtain and the longer you walk through it to get to the other side – “the real exhibit” – you think you’re going to be stuck in this tassel maze forever. I couldn’t see my friends on either side of me and when you looked in front or behind, all you saw was this never ending stream of tassels. Thankfully, one of our friends already made it over to the other side and was coaching us to just keep walking, it would soon be over. This exhibit was really cool because it engaged your senses, instead of just being a piece to be looked at.
The first floor housed typical artwork – oil paintings, sculptures, and photographs. Most of 3D exhibits were created by non-Korean artists, while the first floor was all native artists. I was so surprised by the reoccurring themes of death and dying depicted in most artists’ paintings. A lot of the artwork was centered on the Korean War, even though it has been over 60 years since its end. Unlike most war paintings, there were no glamorous battle scenes being shown, just the aftermath of broken families, crippled soldiers, and general societal depression.
Based on what I’ve learned through my adulthood and aging class, the mark left from the Korean War is still very alive today. South Korea has one of the highest depression and suicide rates among all industrialized countries. Compulsory military service today leaves thousands of young men with post traumatic stress disorder because the government does not fund any discharge psychosocial services for soldiers. With everyday threats of war from both North Korea and Japan, it’s no wonder that this country and its citizens are always on edge. When I visited the DMZ, the tour guide said that many Koreans still hold out for the day when North and South Korea will be reunited. There are generations living that still remember a whole Korea and a time of peace. I applaud these young artists for recognizing issues that came before their time, but I hope that they don’t view its aftermath as a be-all end-all. Throughout the whole museum, I never saw a painting of what a unified or “happy” Korea would be like, just the despair going on currently. This makes me wonder if these artists and the younger generation as a whole still has hope for peaceful Korea.