Korean Art

Posted on May 9, 2011 by Brian Jaress
Tags: art, hawaii

On Mother’s Day, I went to the last day of the North Korean art exhibit at the East-West Center. My mom had already seen it, but she wanted to see it again and wanted me to see it.

Unfortunately, she got sick the night before and couldn’t go, but she still wanted me to see it and report back with my thoughts. I thought I’d write those same thoughts up publicly, since North Korean art isn’t well known in the rest of the world.

North Korea has rules about what is allowed in art and even the purpose of art. The artists, however, are often trained in and influenced by other countries. What you get, at least in this show, is not the product of a brainwashed society, but the product of artists following someone else’s arbitrary rules while still creating their own art. It is propaganda, but it’s artistically closer to commissioned work than advertising.

The art on display mostly depicted people at work, portraits, and nature scenes. There’s a lot of attention to facial expression and posture. Faces that weren’t absurdly happy often had complex, ambiguous expressions. Darker emotions were expressed through landscapes, some of them striking enough to stand out in any collection. Styles were varied, and the main influences were traditional brush-stroke painting and photorealism.

The display lighting was bad. I’m not the sort who usually pays much attention to how paintings are hung, but when part of the picture is obscured by the reflection of floodlights, I do have to complain.

There also seemed to be some heavy-handedness in pushing the theme of propaganda. Striking landscapes and a great misty, deserted street scene were tucked away in the back.

Overall, though, it was a good show. We rarely see North Korean art, and what we do see is rarely chosen for its artistic merit. Here’s hoping the show repeats at a better venue.