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Exploring ethics of art

Gim Hong-sok questions the relationship between artists and collaborators and the use of materials

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Published : 2013-03-05 20:20
Updated : 2013-03-05 20:20

Visitors to contemporary art exhibitions are often left feeling clueless at the end of a viewing. Unless guided tours are offered, a majority of them just remember bits of images that seem impressive to them without fully comprehending the meanings and intentions of the artists.

The exhibition at the Samsung Art Museum Plateau, surrounded by office buildings in central Seoul, asks viewers to pay extra attention to understand the meaning of artworks by Korean contemporary artist Gim Hong-sok.

The solo exhibition of works by the contemporary artist renowned in the Korean and international art scene offers a rare opportunity for the audience to ponder subjects that lie largely outside the areas of interest in the contemporary art scene ― art and ethics.

“The exhibition looks beyond the complete pieces of artwork and questions their hidden meanings,” said Gim at a press conference at Plateau, Samsung Museum of Art.

Beyond the witty and humorous artworks, Gim explores the relationship between the artist and collaborators who help complete his artworks and their labors and artistic practice. He also twists perception toward the materials used in artworks. 
Artist Gim Hong-sok poses with his artwork on display at his solo exhibition at the Samsung Museum of Art Plateau. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)

Those at Gim’s exhibition starting on Thursday will need some guidance to understand the hidden meanings of the artworks through one-on-one guided tours or group tours offered by the gallery.

Gim is considered one of the most representative contemporary artists in Korea with his fresh approach to contemporary art and his participation in high-profile international art events such as the Venice Biennale in 2003, Gwangju Biennale in 2007 and Fukuoka Triennale in 2009.

Gim brings out materials and labor, regarded as supporting parts in completion of artworks, to the center stage at the exhibition.

A dog sculpture sitting in the open outdoor space in front of the gallery tricks the viewers’ eyes into thinking that it’s made using black plastic bags. But as viewers find out it is made in bronze, “some will feel cheated, and others will appreciate the magic of the illusion by which one material appears to be exactly the same as another,” the artist said.

Through the trickery, he raises questions on the value of sculptures largely affected by their materials.

The trick continues in his other sculptural works, which are made using resin instead of concrete, and marble instead of other industrial materials.

“The artist shows the process by which the value of artworks and people’s perception change depending on which materials are used,” said Ahn So-yeon, deputy director of Plateau.

The artist also looks into why ― although many of today’s large-scale artworks require the help of assistants ― their collaborative work is only presented under the artist’s name.

“I feel that we should seriously reconsider the use of hired labor in the production of art,” wrote Gim in his essay.

Gim did an experiment to conduct the ethical discussion. He hired a worker to scrub a painted canvas for five hours and paid her 100,000 won ($92).

He then asks if the painting is the work of the artist because he paid the worker to help him create the painting, or whether it should be considered a collaborative work or the work of the temporary worker.

The painting “Mop-120512,” a result of the experiment, is on display at the exhibition hall.

The artist also includes various opinions of art critics about his artworks to function as part of his artworks.

In “Good Critique Bad Critique Strange Critique,” Gim invites three art critics to comment on his sculpture and painting. On the stage where a screen plays the interviews of the three critics sits “Self-Statue” and “Mop-120512,” the subjects of their critiques.

The work, named a collaboration among the three critics and the artist, also invites the audience to participate in a lecture and a discussion. The lecture is scheduled at 4 p.m. on March 22 and discussion at 4 p.m. on May 11. The artist’s solo lecture is at 4 p.m. on April 26.

The exhibition “Good Labor Bad Art” runs from March 7 to May 26 at Samsung Art Museum Plateau in Seoul.

For more information, call 1577-7595.

By Lee Woo-young (wylee@heraldcorp.com)

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