The Philadelphia Museum of Art is set to unveil a groundbreaking exhibition featuring a diverse collection of art from Korean artists, including pieces smuggled out of North Korea.
About the exhibit: “The Shape of Time: Korean Art After 1989,” set to run from Oct. 21, 2023, to February 11, 2024, aims to shed light on Korea’s cultural evolution and complex history.
Presenting work from 28 Korean artists, all born between 1960 and 1986, the exhibit marks a pivotal moment in South Korea’s history as it transitioned from military dictatorship to democracy in the late 1980s. During this period, an international travel ban was lifted, allowing for increased global engagement.
Transcending art forms: Renowned artists Suki Seokyeong Kang, Do Ho Suh and Chang Jia are among those who contributed pieces in a wide range of mediums, from ceramics and photography to video installations and needlework.
The exhibit’s highlights include pieces that transcend the boundaries of traditional art forms, reflecting on themes such as conformity, displacement, gender and sexuality, coexistence and dissonance. According to the exhibit’s co-curators, these powerful works are aimed at a broader audience, offering unique perspectives on South Korea’s history and culture.
“The timeframe of this exhibition was a formative one for South Korean artists and is aptly reflected in the exhibition’s title, which refers to an individual’s conception of the present and future as framed by and predicated upon memories and experiences of the past,” said co-curators Elisabeth Agro, Nancy M. McNeil and Hyunsoo Woo in a press release
“Our hope is that through this exhibition, we tell this story and inspire a wider audience to learn more about this mighty nation.”
Smuggling art: Among the notable exhibit pieces are Ham Kyung-ah’s “What You See Is the Unseen/Chandeliers for Five Cities.” For the piece, Ham broke international law to have North Korean artisans create lofty, embroidered chandeliers, symbolizing the historical instability of the Korean Peninsula. The endeavor involved covert communication and collaboration across the DMZ, amid ongoing tension between North and South Korea.
“There were risks of artworks being confiscated due to censorship from the North Korean government, bribes being demanded or intermediaries disappearing,” Ham notes in the exhibit’s accompanying narration. “All these processes had to be carried out secretly, much like a spy movie.”