Modern and Contemporary Korean Art: Continuity and Transformation


Friday, December 6, 2019, 9:00am to 4:15pm


Porte Seminar Room (S250), CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge Street, MA 02138

Harvard-Dartmouth Korean Art History Workshop 2019
12.5 Workshop Poster

Organized by Sun Joo Kim, Harvard-Yenching Professor of Korean History; Director, Korea Institute, Harvard University, and Sunglim Kim, Associate Professor in the Department of Art History and Asian Societies, Cultures, and Languages Program, Dartmouth College


9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.

Sunglim Kim, Associate Professor of Korean Art History at Dartmouth College
"Tradition Transformed: Art and Life of the contemporary "traditional" ink painter Park Dae-Sung"

Jungsil Jenny Lee, Lecturer of Asian Art at California State University, Fullerton
“Roaring Bull, Stony Silence, and Abstract Nostalgia: The Trio of Korean Modern Art"

Seung Yeon Sang, Japan Foundation Fellow based at the Tokyo University of the Arts
"Joseon Moon Jars Reconsidered: Asakawa Noritaka and the Rise of "Moon Jars" in the Early 20th Century"

10:30 a.m. – 10:45 a.m.
Coffee Break

10:45 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.

Nancy Lin, Assistant Professor of Art History, Lawrence University
“In Contention: Theorizing the Female Body in Modern Korean Art"

Jinyoung A. Jin, Director, Charles B. Wang Center, Stony Brook University
"Forgotten Face/Faces: Visual Representations of Mass Killing in Lee Quede’s Paintings"

Ghichul Jung, Chair, The Sustainable Korean Culture Institute
“Linked Korean Art: An Ontology-Based Semantic Approach to Korean Modern Art"

12:15 p.m. – 1:15 p.m.

1:15 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Keynote Speech by Raphael Rubinstein, University of Houston
“Po Kim: Darkness & Arcadia”

2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Suzie Kim, Assistant Professor, Department of Art and Art History, University of Mary Washington
“Loss and (Re)construction of Public Space: Postwar Architecture in Pyongyang"

Melany Sun-Min Park, PhD Candidate in History and Theory of Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design
"The Korean Classical and Baroque: From the Archaeological Object to the Architectural Subject"

3:00 p.m. – 3:15 p.m.
Coffee Break

3:15 p.m. – 4:15 p.m.

B.G. Muhn, Professor of Painting in the Department of Art and Art History at Georgetown University
"Contextualizing North Korean Chosonhwa in Contemporary Art"

Douglas Gabriel, 2019-20 Soon Young Kim Postdoctoral Fellow, Korea Institute, Harvard University
"Reunification in Parallax: Lim Su-kyung Leaves Her Mark on Korean Art"


Sunglim Kim is an associate professor of Korean art history at Dartmouth College. Her research interests include the rise of consumer culture in the late Joseon dynasty, the role of professionals (jungin) in the production, distribution, collection, and consumption of art in 18th and 19th century Korea, and Korean women artists. She has authored the book Flowering Plums and Curio Cabinets: The Culture of Objects in Late Chosŏn Korea (Univ. of Washington Press, 2018), and numerous articles and book chapters, including “Seundja Rhee: Her Vision and Artistic Development” (2018), “The Personal is Political: The Life and Death and Life of Na Hye-Sŏk” (2017), “Is Seeing Believing? A Critical Analysis of Japanese Colonial Photographs of Korea” (2017), “Lost and Found: Go Hui-dong and Diamond Mountain” (2016), “Defining a Woman: The Painting of Sin Saimdang” (2016), “Chaekgeori: Multi-Dimensional Messages in Late Joseon Korea” (2014), and “Kim Chŏng-hŭi (1786-1856) and Sehando: The Evolution of a Late Chosŏn Korean Masterpiece” (2006). She co-organized the traveling exhibition The Power and Pleasure of Possessions in Painted Korean Screens and co-edited its exhibition catalogue (2017). She currently is working on another traveling exhibition, on the contemporary artist Park Dae-Sung, and is writing her book on the first Korean female abstract artist, Seundja Rhee (1918-2009).

Jungsil Jenny Lee is a Lecturer of Asian Art at California State University, Fullerton. A graduate of Hongik University in Seoul in 1998, Jungsil Jenny Lee studied Japanese art at the University of Maryland and received her doctoral degree in Korean art at University of California, Los Angeles. Lee has continuously taught and promoted Korean art in the Greater Los Angeles area and recently at the University of Kansas. Her research interests include continuity and discontinuity between tradition and modernism in Korean art, with a focus on particularity and interdependency of Korean modern and contemporary art in East Asian and global contexts. She is currently working on a book manuscript tentatively titled Korean Modern Art: Avant-garde Embodiment of Ku Ponung, 1906-1953.

Seung Yeon Sang is currently a Japan Foundation Fellow based at the Tokyo University of the Arts. After receiving her PhD from Boston University, she worked at the Harvard Art Museums as the Henderson Curatorial Fellow in East Asian Art from 2016 to 2018. She has been the recipient of fellowships from the Korea Foundation, the Japan Foundation, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian Institution (Freer and Sackler Galleries of Art), and the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures. Her research interests include historical and contemporary ceramics in Korea and the Japanese arts of tea (chanoyu).

Nancy Lin is assistant professor of art history at Lawrence University. She received her Ph.D. (2015) in modern Japanese and Korean art history from the University of Chicago. Currently, she is working on a book manuscript titled Representing Difference: Early 20th Century Japanese and Korean Art, which focuses on how Japanese and Korean artists depicted colonial Korea (1910-45) within the formation of a shared modern East Asian artistic canon. Her research has been supported by grants from the Korea Foundation, the Getty Research Institute, and the Fulbright-Hays Program.

Suzie Kim is an assistant professor of art history at the University of Mary Washington. She received her Ph.D. in art history from the University of Maryland, College Park. Her research interests lie in how Constructivism and the International style became the primary source for a multifaceted cultural phenomenon in Japan and Korea from the 1920s onward. Her wider areas of expertise include post-colonial theory, colonial architecture of Korea, and Contemporary Korean art. She recently published a book chapter titled “The Legacy of Colonial Architecture in South Korea: The Government-General Building of Chosŏn Revisited” and is currently writing a book on the architecture of Pyongyang in the 1950s and 1960s.

Ghichul Jung received his PhD in Buddhist art of Korea from the University of Kansas in 2016. He has served as the director of the Sustainable Korean Culture Institute in California. His research focuses on Buddhist art in East Asia, the architectural heritage in Korea, and the linked data approach to Digital Humanities. He recently completed two articles on Buddhist art in Korea commissioned by the Cleveland Museum of Art; an art historical overview of late-Chosŏn Buddhist paintings and an object-focused analysis of the Amitâbha Triad of the early Chosŏn held by the Cleveland Museum of Art. Both will be published on the museum’s website. His recent publications include “On the Elevated Terrace at the Corner: The Initial Form of the T’ongdosa Diamond Ordination Platform and Its Legacy,” Archives of Asian Art 69:2 (October 2019), and “Natural Land Is Too Weak to Sustain the Great Dharma: Daoxuan’s Commentary on the Sīmā and Medieval Chinese Monasticism,” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 42 (2019). He is currently organizing a digital exhibition of the Royal Ancestral Shrine of Chosŏn Korea with media artists and IT experts.

Raphael Rubinstein is a New York-based writer and art critic whose numerous books include The Miraculous (Paper Monument, 2014) and Guillermo Kuitca (Lund Humphries, 2020). He edited the anthology Critical Mess: Art Critics on the State of their Practice and is widely known for his articles on “provisional painting.” His poetry has appeared in, among other places, Harper’s Magazine and in Best American Poetry 2015. From 1997 to 2007 he was a senior editor at Art in America, where he continues to be a contributing editor. He is currently Professor of Critical Studies at the University of Houston. In 2002, the French government presented him with the award of Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters. In 2010, his blog The Silo won a Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant. In 2014 The Silo was given a Best Blog Award of Excellence by the International Association of Art Critics. In April 2017, The Miraculous: Houston, a public-art installation by artist and wife Heather Bause Rubinstein, based on his book The Miraculous, debuted as part of the CounterCurrent Festival. In 2018, the couple co-curated “Under Erasure,” at Pierogi Gallery, New York.

Jinyoung A. Jin is the director of cultural programs at Stony Brook University’s Charles B. Wang Center, an institution devoted to Asian and Asian American arts and culture. Jin has curated and organized many critically acclaimed exhibitions, including Korea: A Land of Hats (2019), Virtual Journeys: Chinese Buddhist Art and Architecture in the Digital Era (2018), Potasia: Potatoism in the East (2018), The Way of Tea in Asia (2017), The Power and Pleasure of Possessions in Korean Painted Screens (2016), Origami Heaven (2015), Comfort Women Wanted (2014), and Seas of Blue: Asian Indigo Dye (2014). A number of her bold and innovative curatorial works have been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Newsday, and PBS, among other media outlets. Jin’s most recent publication is a contributed essay in Chaekgeori: The Power and Pleasure of Possessions in Korean Painted Screens (SUNY Press, 2017). She also currently serves as a member of the community advisory board of PBS Thirteen/WLIW. She holds an MA from Columbia University and is nearing completion of a doctorate in cultural analysis and theory at Stony Brook University, where her research focuses on the visual representation of modern conflicts as well as cultural censorship and identity politics.

Melany Sun-Min Park is a PhD candidate in History and Theory of Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Her research specializes in 20th-century East Asian architecture and the global formations of modernism in visual culture and design. Her dissertation, “From the Truss to the Dome: Architecture, Industry, and Modern Science in Postwar Korea,” is an interrelated investigation of architectural knowledge, cultural nationalism, and techno-scientific development. She is the organizer of the panel, “Reconfiguring Knowledge and Society in Postwar Korea,” at the Association for Asian Studies 2020 Annual Conference, and she will also co-chair the panel, “The Magnitude of Architecture,” at the Society of Architectural Historians 2020 Annual Conference. Her writings have appeared in the Journal of Architecture, Architectural Review, and Singapore Architect. Her essay on the construction of Korean fertilizer industries and the developmental state is forthcoming in the edited volume, Systems and the South: Architecture in Development. Melany’s research has received support from the following institutions: Harvard Korea Institute, Harvard Asia Center, Society of Architectural Historians, and Canadian Center for Architecture.

BG Muhn i
s a visual artist and professor of painting in the Department of Art and Art History at Georgetown University. He has achieved substantial and noteworthy professional recognition through solo exhibitions in venues such as Stux Gallery in the Chelsea district in New York City, the Ilmin Museum of Art in Seoul and the American University Museum in Washington, DC. Through his professional endeavors, Professor Muhn has received numerous awards for his artistic merits including the Maryland State Arts Council’s Individual Artist Award and the Grand Prize in the Bethesda Painting Awards Competition. His artwork has been collected in museums and galleries including the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in South Korea. He has also received acclaim in reviews and interviews in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Art in America and CNN. In addition to actively creating and exhibiting his art, Professor Muhn has also taken a strong interest in and studied the relatively unknown field of North Korean art. During the past six years, he made nine trips to Pyongyang, his research based on first-hand, on-site experience in the North Korean art community. He visited the Choson National Museum of Art and a National Art Exhibition as well as interviewed artists and art historians. He has given lectures on North Korean art at numerous academic venues and cultural centers in the United States, including Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, Columbia, Harvard, Michigan, and the Ohio State universities, the Watermill Center for Robert Wilson in Long Island and the Korea Society in New York City. As a curator, he was invited to facilitate Contemporary North Korean Art: The Evolution of Social Realism at the American University Museum in 2016, and North Korean Art: Paradoxical Realism at the 12th Gwangju Biennale in 2018.

Douglas Gabriel is the 2019–20 Soon Young Kim Postdoctoral Fellow at the Korea Institute, Harvard University. He received his PhD in Art History from Northwestern University in 2019. He is currently completing a manuscript that explores intersections between the art of the minjung democratization movement in South Korea and socialist realism in North Korea during the late Cold War period. In addition, he is also working on a book that investigates spectacles of youth culture in North Korea. His research has appeared in publications such as the Journal of Korean Studies and Hyŏndae misulsa yŏngu [The Korean Journal of Contemporary Art History] and has been supported by the Fulbright Program, the National Committee for the History of Art, and the Equality Development and Globalization Studies Program at Northwestern University.


"Tradition Transformed: Art and Life of the contemporary “traditional” ink painter Park Dae-Sung"
Sosan (“small hill”) Park Dae-Sung (1945- ) is one of very few artists continuing Korean sansuhwa with traditional medium ink on paper but he does in “gigantic” scale.  Having lost one arm during the Korean War, he subsequently devoted over six decades to ink painting.  We will explore his philosophy, artistic career, and artworks, and their development over that period, in the context of Korean traditional painting history. We will also examine his representative works of the Diamond Mountains and Gyeongju to see how he transformed traditional sansuhwa to express his own vision, and to understand its significance in the 21st century Korean art world.  This is part of a book project for Park’s upcoming traveling exhibition to US museums.

“Roaring Bull, Stony Silence, and Abstract Nostalgia: The Trio of Korean Modern Art"
Modern awareness and visualization of national identity in Korea emerged during the end of the nineteenth century under threats from foreign powers. This diversified against Japanese colonial rule, intensified in recovery efforts after the Korean War, and is still used for national promotion on global stage. Many Western-style painters who trained with new painting materials and techniques during the Japanese colonial period are known to present their consciousness of ethnicity in paintings with specific motifs and colors, identified as distinctively Korean. Korean identity was painted and explained in various ways by artists, critics, and viewers, either individually or collectively. This study discusses visualization of Korean-ness in three different cases of Western-style painters, Lee Jung-Seob (1916-1956), Park Soo-Keun (1914-1965), and Kim Whanki (1913-1974). The discussion addresses their recognition of cultural nationalism, presentation of new Korean painting, and posthumous construction of their reputation as Korea’s most favorite painters.

"Joseon Moon Jars Reconsidered: Asakawa Noritaka and the Rise of "Moon Jars" in the Early 20th Century"
A large porcelain vessel of the late Joseon period (1392–1910), popularly known as a moon jar (Kr., dal hangari), for its resemblance to a full moon, has achieved iconic status in Korean art history. Considered as among the most Korean of all Korean art forms, Joseon moon jars continue to inspire and capture the imagination of artists and art enthusiasts in Korea and abroad. Despite its popularity, the moon jar is one of the most understudied subjects in the field of Korean art history. The modern name “moon jar” describing its large spherical shape is widely used without any understanding of its origin and development, and led to the distortion of the concept and historical importance of this type of porcelain jar. To clarify the definition and classification of this porcelain group, it is useful to examine the origin of the name “moon jar.” A wave of renewed interest in Joseon moon jars emerged from the early 20th century as their unadorned surface and irregular shapes were thought to convey more natural, unpretentious qualities. Asakawa Noritaka (1884–1964), known as the “patron saint of Korean ceramics,” contributed to the fascination with moon jars through his research, writings, and paintings. By focusing on Asakawa’s role in the rise of Joseon white porcelain, my paper will elucidate the ways that he and his cohort of collectors shaped new meaning and identity of the moon jar in the early 20th century.

“In Contention: Theorizing the Female Body in Modern Korean Art"
Why and in what ways has the female body mattered in modern Korean art? The figure of the female body has been the object of contentious negotiation, as well as a productive locus of identity politics, collective action and articulation throughout the modern history of Korea. This paper will examine the social construction and visual representations of female bodies during the colonial period through the immediate postwar aftermath. The focus will first be on how the genre of beautiful women (美人圖) emerged as a modern subject in painting within a racialized modality of gendered and bodily difference during the first half of the twentieth century by the artist, Kim Ŭnho and Kim Kich’ang. The paper will then consider how representations of the Korean female body continued to be deployed as a site of identification and resistance and configurations of power during the 1960s and 1970s. The aim is to how the representation of female bodies have been marked by an array of differences by Korean artists in response to particular historical and cultural processes of the modern period.

“Loss and (Re)construction of Public Space: Postwar Architecture in Pyongyang"
With the rise of Communism, Kim Il-sung expressed the new social agenda by rebuilding heavily devastated Pyongyang after the Korean War. From the mid-1950s, the city grew out of its ashes, rejuvenated by the reconstruction programs based on a model known as the Soviet-aid program. The DPRK initiated the first three-year reconstruction plan (1954-1956) and the first five-year plan (1957-1962), which utilized the most comprehensive and advanced technology from the Soviet Union and the neighboring socialist nations. They brought foreign experts and architects from overseas as well as Koreans, who studied abroad in the Soviet Union, to help implement a new expansion of constructing new architectural landmarks, government buildings, industrial facilities, and munhwajut'aek (apartment complexes) in the 1950s and 60s. The buildings were thought to express newly established political regimes that promoted the more austere and insular objectives, which were later defined as Juche (self-reliance) ideology. This paper examines the architectural style of buildings during the rise of the post-War construction of the city and examines how DPRK sought to legitimize and signify their socialist ambition and to reunify Korea by transmuting devastated post-war Pyongyang into an upscale socialist capital filled with Nationalist, Neoclassical, and Constructivist architecture.

“Linked Korean Art: An Ontology-Based Semantic Approach to Korean Modern Art"
This study describes and implements a method of visualizing the transcultural web of relationships binding modern artists in 1920s and ‘30s colonial Korea. During this formative period for Korean modern art, artists were linked by a complex nexus of personal, social, cultural and political relationships. These artists learned from established Japanese artists in Tokyo, who introduced them to the fine arts and modern art movements in Europe. They formed various societies and studios in line with their academic and regional connections, established their reputations, and used their acquired cultural capital to cement their individual legacies. Charting this web of relationships poses a daunting challenge for historians of modern Korean art. This project draws on an ontological approach for the semantic enrichment of knowledge, and develops an online model of information retrieval that graphs the relevant links between modern artists based on the ontologies of actor, place, time and period, and event as presented in CIDOC CRM. The present paper is the first step in implementing this online model. It focuses on how to design a particular ontology suitable for Korean modern art, and describes how it might be developed as a collaborative research project open to scholars of modern Korean art.

“Po Kim: Darkness & Arcadia” (Keynote Speech)
The long trajectory of Po Kim’s career, which began in the late 1930s and spanned many decades in New York up until his death in 2014, orbits around two fundamental and difficult questions. First, what is the relationship between the wartime traumas that he suffered in Japan and Korea in the 1940s and early 1950s and the art that he made after his immigration to the United States in 1955? Secondly, why did he work in three distinct modes during his life (gestural abstraction in the 1950s and 1960s, realist still-lifes in the 1970s, and symbolist figuration from the 1980s until the end of his life)? What is striking in surveying Po Kim’s oeuvre is how little trace there seems to be in his art of the violence and political oppression that marked his life until his late 30s. It is as if, in leaving Korea, he decided to devote himself to the pursuit of the artistic freedom, refused to let darkness determine the spirit or the content of his work. At the same time, the pluralist approach to style he embraced was atypical for an artist of his generation; it’s one of the things that gives Po Kim current relevance.

"Forgotten Face/Faces: Visual Representations of Mass Killing in Lee Quede’s Paintings"
When records and photographic evidence are scarce, the tenuous links between politics and the arts become critically important. This paper looks at the relationship between art and society, and the role images play in political life. The time period being examined in particular will be between the years 1945 and 1951, when a large number of brutal mass killings occurred throughout the Korea Peninsula. Jinyoung Jin will analyze the relationship between these mass killings and paintings by Korean artist Lee Quede (1913–1965). Jin argues that Lee’s iconic paintings are tightly bound in subject and more to these atrocities; the artistic depiction of mass civilian death in Lee’s paintings serves as an example of the subjective witness as a means of historical documentation and as a producer of historical knowledge. With a high degree of cultural censorship dominating modern postwar South Korean society, such works that dare to illustrate a truth from a dissident perspective is radical when words like “defectors to North Korea,” “the Reds,” or “the Left” are often weapons of contempt and hostility. Additionally, this paper will shed light on the life, career, and philosophy of Lee Quede, who had been unfairly maligned and blacklisted in South Korea, becoming a tragic victim of the South Korean state’s insertion of its aggressive right-wing politics into modern Korean art history.

"The Korean Classical and Baroque: From the Archaeological Object to the Architectural Subject"
During the 1960s, the practice of preservation (pojon) dominated all forms of architectural knowledge and indeed became the single most important way of understanding and canonizing Korea’s built past. In this paper, I show how revisionist histories became an equally compelling method with which to research and recover the built environment. In particular, I focus on the work of the architectural historian Chŏng In-kuk who borrowed from Heinrich Wölfflin’s art historical ideas about the “classical” and the “baroque” to analogize Korean tectonic development to a deeply rational and systematic expression. In this historiographical experimentation, the notion of an architectural “style” was understood as an exclusively formal evolution, one shorn of ideas about improvement and progress that had defined the colonial archaeological sciences and its architectural legacies. Through a renewed but altered scientific interest, Chŏng saw architectural history as a critical antidote to archaeology and preservation that had burdened Korean architectural scholarship. The aim of this paper is to show how Chŏng made the Korean historical experience relevant to the western lineages of art and architectural history and also to the country’s dawning architectural modernity.

"Contextualizing North Korean Chosonhwa in Contemporary Art"
Chosonhwa, the unique manifestation of Oriental painting in North Korea, emerged in the DPRK amid the division of the Korean Peninsula in 1945. While chosonhwa has evolved in technique and expression over the last seventy years and become the country’s most significant artform, it is a challenge for the outside world to conceptualize its place in contemporary art. Barriers to our deeper understanding of chosonhwa are limited by North Korea’s seclusion and a culture largely unknown beyond its borders, and also by our perspectives of Western contemporary art, which generally expect unsuppressed and unlimited expressions. The lens by which we define contemporary art is influenced by what we typically see: free representations of psychological states, satirical messages, and reflections and criticism of issues that include race, gender, sexual orientation and social justice. Viewing North Korean chosonhwa demands a greater context of the DPRK’s history, and the ideology that drives its politics and social values. Considering these factors, I explore North Korean chosonhwa within its unique context of contemporaneity; how art in a seclusive society functions between the governing and governed; how complex aesthetics that reflect traditional values and socialist political policy are implemented; and how outsiders’ biased perspectives prevent seeing the deeper layers and significance of socialist realism.

"Reunification in Parallax: Lim Su-kyung Leaves Her Mark on Korean Art"
In 1989 the South Korean student activist Lim Su-kyung travelled for 10 days via Tokyo, East and West Berlin, Moscow, and Beijing in order to reach Pyongyang, a mere 120 miles from her starting point in Seoul. There she participated in the Thirteenth World Festival of Youth and Students as the sole South Korean delegate. As intimated by her sobriquet “Flower of Reunification,” many saw Lim as embodying the promise of national reunification, an aspiration that otherwise appeared all but out of reach by 1989. In turn, artists across the peninsula produced countless portraits of Lim, several of which were shuttled across the border. This paper argues that the authors of such images strove to address a community of viewers that would reach across the divided peninsula, albeit one that could not yet be convened in the current political climate. Taken together, North and South Korean portraits of Lim modeled a way of envisioning reunification without appealing to idealistic notions of national unity and cultural homogeneity, frameworks that were frequently invoked in proposals for inter-Korean demonstrations jointly sanctioned by the two Korean governments. Much like Lim herself, these works remained precariously suspended between the two Koreas, eschewing any secure identification with either the North or South.