Korean Art in London

There’s a welcome return for Park Seo-Bo at the White Cube Gallery, this time with a move away from the pale tones of his previous exhibition to the seething blacks of his ‘zigzag’ paintings.

Their seething, shimmering intensity doesn’t really come across in my photographs. canvases that have been primed with reds have thick, dark paint applied and scored across with diagonal gestures that give a metallic tang  reminiscent of industrial flooring.

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The large landscape at one end of the room is interesting but my favourite was a small canvas to one side. Fiery red patches are glimpsed between thick smodges of black impasto that has been torn and twisted, gouged and thumbed into shape. There’s a violence in the application that is far from the serenity of the work I’d seen by Park before.

Such expressionistic intensity is in marked contrast to a smaller display up the road at the British Museum. While visiting the South African exhibition (a disappointment that wore its politics too overtly on its sleeve for my taste) my attention was drawn to a small case by the rear entrance to the museum.

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It houses art from North Korea – two canvases, one celadon vase and a medal.Of the four pieces the vase was the most interesting to me. It depicts a modern city using ancient techniques in  curious mash up of modernism and traditionalism. The paintings on the other hand are good old fashioned socialist realism; unintentionally kitsch propaganda that is quease-inducing given the misery meted out to its own population by the DPK and the threat posed to its neighbours.

The art in each of these exhibitions seems to embody the difference between open and closed societies – the one engaged with the world and emotionally charged while the other is false and unconvincing. It’s one of the strengths of the British Museum that it acts as a cultural link with less open societies than our own, and its policy of encouraging loans from places difficult to visit really underpins its mission as a museum of world culture.

#Art #London

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