Seventh Asian Studies Conference Japan
    Saturday, June 21-Sunday 22, 2003
    Ichigaya Campus of Sophia University



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Contact the organizers: Asian Studies Conference (ASCJ) c/o Institute of Asian Cultural Studies, International Christian University 3-10-2 Osawa, Mitaka-shi, Tokyo 181


Session 16
Korean Modern Art: Methodological Questions of Cultural Identity and Translation
Organizer/Chair: Doryun Chong, University of California, Berkeley

The three papers in this panel explore contentious topics in modern art in postwar Korea. All three art historians feel an urgent need to critique the common way in which Korean modern art history has been written, that is, largely as a history of movements and exhibitions. This panel wishes to address how the three separate words of 'Korean,' 'modern,' and 'art' have come to be a seemingly seamless category. In order to destabilize the tenaciously guarded boundary of 'Korean modern art' from within, the papers will consider constant, complex interrelationships it has had with historical and contemporaneous influences and tendencies.

Yisoon Kim asks how welded sculpture, one of the most important sculptural methods in 20th-century art, developed into a unique form in Korea. Both Mikyung Kim and Doryun Chong will discuss Korean Monotone Painting, arguably the most important and certainly the best-known aspect of postwar art in Korea. Kim focuses in particular on artist Lee Ufan, who was the bridge between the art communities but was also bilaterally misunderstood and 'Othered.' Chong's paper quibbles with the very term of Korean Monotone Painting, historically riddled with many untested transliterated terms.

Korean modern art has been too overburdened, overwhelmed, and overdetermined by unsystematic writings about it. By asking the questions of cultural identity and translation, both of which are critically requisite for a cultural history of any non-western, peripheral, postcolonial nation, this panel hopes to start a discussion on this little known subject.

1) Yisoon Kim, Hong-Ik University. "Situating Postwar Korean Welded Sculpture"

Begun by Pablo Picasso and Julio Gonzalez in France in the late 1920s, welded sculpture has been favored by artists who seek to escape the traditional notion of sculpture as a 'solid mass.' In the postwar period, the approach was deemed especially suitable for expressing psychological pains and anxieties, and thus widely spread in Europe, the United States, and Asian countries such as Korea and Japan. In the radically transformed social situations in the wake of the Korean War, welded sculpture attracted certain young Korean artists who sought new directions in art.

In this paper, I look at how welded sculpture was introduced from the West to Japan and Korea, and went through subsequent transformations. Especially, I will map out how Korean welded sculpture developed, and what similarities and differences it came to have vis-à-vis its Japanese counterpart. I will argue, specifically through the examples of Tatehata Kakuzo, Song Young-Soo and Park Jong-Bae, that Japanese sculptors were interested in innovative possibilities the welding technique offered, while Korean artists were more drawn to its expressive capacity. I hope to clarify how this particular methodology played an important role in the shaping of the overall topography of postwar Korean art, and in the larger context of shifting structure of society. I hope to also show how artists found in welded sculpture apt means and medium to reflect and inject their own artistic identities.

2) Mikyung Kim, Kangnam University. "Rereading Lee Ufan: In the contexts of Japanese Mono-ha, Korean Monotone Painting and Experimental Art"

Japanese Mono-ha and Korean Monotone Painting are widely acknowledged to be the central and dominant postwar art tendency in each respective country. Artist and theorist Lee Ufan (born in Korea and lived and worked primarily in Japan since the late 1950s) had great influence on both in the late 1960s and throughout the 70s. Lee's critical writings, published in Japan between1968 and1971, were decisive in the formation of Mono-ha, and he is regularly credited for his seminal role in Monotone Painting. Critics and historians in both countries, however, have largely underplayed his role and place in art history. Not only as an astute writer but also as a versatile artist who worked in painting and three-dimensional mediums, he was an important figure also in experimental art in Korea, the aspect that must be considered along with the two dominant tendencies.

In this paper, I offer a reinterpretation of Lee Ufan, both as the 'Other' in the cultural, geopolitical context of Mono-ha in Japan, and misunderstood and alienated in the historical discourse of Korean Monotone Painting. I argue that his critical thoughts and writings from the late 1960s-early 1970s should be reconsidered as an intellectual project of expanding and reconfiguring the philosophical tradition of 'overcome the modern,' in keeping with the contemporaneous international context of revolutionary politics and critiques of modernity. In the same spirit, his art was an effort to transcend both west-centered modern art and the crude aesthetic binary of west-versus-Japan (or Asia).

3) Doryun Chong, University of California, Berkeley. "Minimalism, Modernism, and Monochromism: Korean Monotone Painting and Its Terminological Predicament"

This paper is a small attempt to critique and address terminological self-confusions levied on Korean Monotone Painting of the 1970s, which has been variously called 'Korean-type minimal art,' 'minimal modernism,' 'white monochromism,' and so forth. The terms Minimalism and Monochromism have specific provenances, referring to groups of mainly American artists and their collective artistic practices and ideologies in the 1960s and the 70s; the former term, in principle, is applied to three-dimensional art works, while the latter, painting. Modernism, of course, is arguably a much broader and far more complex and problematic category, but even in this case, art history locates its final culmination in American art in the immediate postwar years. How did all these terms, with overdetermined American pedigrees, come to take over and even define the Korean school of painting?
By examining important contemporaneous criticisms in Korean in juxtaposition with 'source' writings by American critics of the period, I will trace how the conceptual labors around Minimalism, Monochromism, and Modernism went through multiple stages of (mis)reading and (mis)translation in the periphery of the Americo-centric art history. I will suggest that this 'transligual practice' (in the words of literary critic Lydia Liu) has produced the discursive thickness surrounding Korean Monotone Painting, and critique how, despite it all, works themselves have been paradoxically cast as the collective embodiment of a certain essentialist notion of "Korean-ness."


list of panels