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Jeju Museum of Art Opens its DoorsInaugural Exhibition, ‘Eye of the Pacific Rim’ pays tribute to Jeju culture
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승인 2009.07.03  14:42:17
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▲ Photo courtesy Jeju Museum of Art

While Jeju has a plethora of museums dedicated to the island’s history and culture, a new gallery adds contemporary art to the mix. The Jeju Museum of Art held its grand opening June 26, with an array of visual arts to delight the senses.

Located a short 10 minute drive up the mountain from Shin Jeju, past Halla Arboretum and directly across from the Mysterious Road, the museum is a massive stone building housing a wealth of visual art. Jeju has now joined every other province in the nation by housing a public art museum provided by the provincial government.

With spacious galleries both inside and out, it will provide the community access to contemporary art, which is the goal of the founders.

The museum is surrounded by a shallow pool of water which, by design, makes it appear to float. Standing in the water is an artwork called “Embracing W01” by Seo Sung-bong consisting of rocks laced with veins of aluminum and a magnificent aluminum tree. This piece belongs to the four-part Inaugural Exhibition: Eye of the Pacific Rim, the title drawn from the fact that satellite images of Jeju look like an eye with Halla Mountain as its dark pupil.

▲ The haunting work of Russian artist Oleg Dou is part of the inaugural exhibit at the Jeju Museum of Art. Photo courtesy Jeju Museum of Art

Art connects with natural elements
The outdoor sculpture is one of the pieces in Part One: SU:MBISORI, the international segment of the exhibit. The name means the cathartic exhalation that the haenyeo (Jeju female divers) make when they emerge from the sea. This is a metaphor for our daily lives in the modern world being intertwined with Jeju's natural surroundings, specifically light, water, wind, and sound.

J.W. Stella, the co-curator of the exhibit, said that these pieces were selected to represent the culture of Jeju and the artists's connection to the elements. She also wanted to use international artists as the new museum increases Jeju's exposure as a cultural center.

The pieces in SU:MBISORI explode with modernism and diversity. From a precise photography to ethereal sculpture, animation to practical engineering the show is a lesson in what modern art encompasses.

The representation of natural elements and their connection to daily life is clear, yet the approach of each artist broaches the subject in a new way providing a vibrant discourse on modern life in a timeless world, all the while gracefully avoiding hot button environmental issues. The focus is on the elements themselves and human connection to them, certainly a topical subject for residents of Jeju for whom the sea, the wind, and the sounds of the island constantly connect us with nature.

▲ A satellite image of Jeju Island shows why the exhibit is called “Eye of the Pacific Rim,” as the volcanic island looks like an eye from this perspective. Photos courtesy Jeju Art Museum

Part Two of exhibit, Jeju past to present

Part Two: Jeju Art – Yesterday and Today is an overview of art made in Jeju from 1865 to the present. This collection spans Korean art from watercolor landscapes to modern cubism. The chronological layout provides a brief history of artists in Jeju. Images of Jeju from ocean scapes to women selling fish are at once modern and timeless, reflecting an adoration of Jeju life which pervades the collection.

In the Citizen's Gallery is Part Three: World Children's Art Eco Festival. This collection of drawings was created by children worldwide when asked what they felt about water, light, and wind. Some of it is by children from Jeju including a large map of the world expressing their understanding of global ecosystems.

The work is enticing for children and adults alike, but if you are small enough to duck through a tiny door in the gallery, a secret room holds artwork just for you. The children's exhibit is the favorite of the director of the museum, Kim Nam Keun. He confirmed that one of the galleries will always contain work by or for children as a way to maintain the allure of the museum for young art lovers and the family members who accompany them.

▲ Above, the masked face of an Udo haenyeo (woman diver) floats on a black pool in this photograph by Lee Sung Eun of Sumbisori. Bottom, a dancer’s pensive moment is captured by British photographer Yinka Shonibare. Photos courtesy Jeju Museum of Art

Work of Jeju-influenced artist is featured
The final gallery features the work of Chang Ree Suok, Part Four of the Inaugural Exhibit, but a permanent feature of the museum collection. The 93-year-old artist donated his entire body of work to the Korean government who granted it to the newly created museum. His work belongs here as it is prominently influenced by Jeju, although he lived here for only five years after fleeing North Korea. His paintings are of seaside towns, mountain vistas, ponies, cows, and most prominently, women divers.

Chang's images of women were revolutionary for the 1950's, showing the women divers of Jeju not as the typical image of them in full gear at work, but at sunset, undressing, washing their hair, and relaxing after a hard day in the sea. Kim Young Ho, the curator of the inaugural exhibit, said.

“They both shared a reverence for health and the beauty of strong women who worked as physical laborers,” he said. “He took a nostalgic approach to rural life, contrasting the norm which showed sea diving as back breaking labor, to depict them as sensual creatures in an exotic atmosphere.”

▲ Professor Kim Young Ho is the curator of the first exhibit at the museum. Photo by Kim Gyong Ho
At the entrance, there are pleasant covered areas with benches for picnics and walkways around the grounds dotted with sculptures. Next door is the Bok rok (Crater Lake) Art Hall featuring a longer walkway around a sculpture garden of lounging giants and flower beds. Bring your friends and family and enjoy a day of modern art at Jeju's newest cultural attraction.

The Jeju Museum of Art is located at 401 Shinbi-ro, Shin Jeju. Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, closed Mondays.

Eye of the Pacific Rim will be on display through Sept. 30. Admission is free until that date.
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