▲ “Seongsan Ilchulbong,” by Kim Hyun Chul, Photo courtesy Jeju Museum of Contemporary Art
“The Deification of Nature, Jeju” -- an exhibition of artwork depicting Jeju’s UNESCO World Natural Heritage Sites from a modern perspective -- is showing at the Jeju Museum of Contemporary Art in Hallim until Jan. 19. The works are fresh, vibrant, and surprisingly emotional, a distinct departure from the typical postcard images of Halla Mountain or Sunrise Peak.
Jeju was added to the list of World Natural Heritage Sites in 2007 as Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes. The three locations included in the listing are the Geomunoreum Lava Tube System, Hallasan and Seongsan Ilchulbong (Sunrise Peak).
Museum director, Kim Chang Woo, said the title of the show refers to the World Heritage Sites as places so beautiful that they could only have been the artistic offerings of God. “With this show we were looking for modern, emotional, and creative interpretations of Jeju’s beautiful places,” he said. “We weren’t interested in the literal photography most artists use to portray Jeju. We wanted artists who saw these places not through their eyes, but through their hearts.”
Kim said it can be difficult choosing shows for the museum. “If we choose the art purely for its artistic value, no one comes to the museum. Jeju people aren’t educated in modern art as well as I’d like. We must constantly balance pleasing Jeju people and educating them in contemporary art.”
He seemed thrilled with the current show, however, as achieving a perfect balance of creativity and crowd-pleasing accessibility and is attempting to tour it to Seoul, as well as Japan and other countries.
▲ “ Geomulchang,” by Kang Yo Bae
Kang Yo Bae is one of 16 artists whose work is in the exhibition, four of whom are Jeju locals. Kim said Kang is the most well-known artist in the show and his paintings are the most representative of the exhibition’s central concept, combining Western-style abstract painting with an intimate relationship with the Jeju sites, and producing strong work that captures the essence of the island. Kang has three pieces in the show featuring the lava caves by moonlight, his mysterious and impressionistic paintings leaving room for the viewer’s imagination in his dark shadows.
Kim Hyun Chul painted the piece chosen to represent the show -- a richly colored view of Sunrise Peak from high above painted on silk. Kim Chang Woo said the dark blue ocean had been painted over time in nine layers to achieve the depth of color and textural variation. Kim Hyun Chul also has three pieces in the show, two of Sunrise Peak from the sky, appearing as a small, secret planet in a dark and peaceful sea, and a similar portrayal of the crater lake on Hallasan. His works have a touch of whimsy, and are a romantic view of Jeju enhanced by his traditionally Korean style of painting and materials.
Park Bang Young’s three paintings of Sunrise Peak stand out as particularly innovative and vibrant. The colors range from the almost realistic blues and blacks of his sea and rocks to the glorious pinks and bright yellows of the flowers in the foreground. All three works show a beautiful sunrise depicted with an electric jolt of imagination.
Park’s most impressive piece is titled “The Poem is Born Out of the Sea” and is of the peak with a deep, still ocean spreading below it. The entire canvas is covered in writing, the surface of the water in Korean, part of which reads, “The sea swallows the sadness.” The Korean is written with strokes that are bold and decisive, but beneath the surface of the water the handwriting turns sketchy and more ethereal, written in Chinese characters. The ocean of poems is surrounded by flowers that bend toward the ocean. The colors and textures are fraught with meaning, the visual impact deeply emotional and invigorating. This piece challenges the viewer to never take Jeju for granted.
▲ “Seongsan Ilchulbong From Udo,” by Yeo Woon
Other notable works include the photography of Seogwipo resident Kim Ok Sun, the technically brilliant water-colors of Kim Won Ku and Boo Hyun Il, a comical flying pig piece by Choi Suk Un and a glorious painting of Sunrise Peak in fiery oranges and deep purple by Yeo Woon.
The museum lies in a cluster of cultural attractions in the Hallim area. The O’Sulloc Tea Museum, the Spirited Bonsai Garden, the Jeju Wildflower Botanic Garden and the Glass Castle are all nearby, so plan a day in Hallim to explore all the area has to offer. The art show is quite extensive, so schedule several hours to see it all. The museum’s next show will be “Dawn - New Beginning,” which is still in development. Admission is 1,000 won for adults to visit the whole museum and an annex, which is currently showing works by Korean academic artist Park Gwangjin.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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