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Presenting American art

Contemporary collection of Whitney Museum of American Art to be showcased in Seoul in June


Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jeff Koons…

These names sound familiar now, but there was a time when American art was considered insignificant. Up until several decades ago, U.S. artists mostly relied on realistic paintings inspired by European art, and were overshadowed by the originals. After World War II, however, the situation totally changed.

Armed with abstract expressionism and gigantic scales, American art rose as the mainstream in the international art scene. The overall style had so greatly changed since before the war that some critics even commented that it was akin to looking at art from two different countries. 
“Puzzle Bottle” by Charles Ray   (National Museum of Contemporary Art)
“Puzzle Bottle” by Charles Ray   (National Museum of Contemporary Art)

Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, one of the major contemporary art museums in the U.S., played a significant role in turning the tide. Since its establishment in 1931, the museum has focused on exhibiting and promoting works by living and active U.S. contemporary artists.

To present an overall view of U.S. contemporary art of the early 20th century, the National Museum of Contemporary Art is bringing some of Whitney Museum’s major collections to Seoul in June.

“In terms of art, the U.S. went from being an underdeveloped country to an advanced country within 30 years. Now South Korea is trying to jump up to the level of a culturally advanced country, and it is important to see what the U.S. did at the time,” Bae Soon-hoon, director of MOCA, told The Korea Herald on Monday.

Whitney Museum will lend 87 pieces from its permanent collection to an Asian country for the first time for the exhibition “The American Art: Masterpieces of Everyday Life from the Whitney Museum of American Art” which will kick off at MOCA’s Deoksugung Museum on June 11. It will feature diverse genres of art from paintings, photos to installations by 47 U.S. artists including Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Man Ray, Jeff Koons, Jasper Jones, Edward Hopper and Richard Estes. 
“La Fortune” by Man Ray (National Museum of Contemporary Art)
“La Fortune” by Man Ray (National Museum of Contemporary Art)

Linked together by the keyword “object,” the exhibits will be divided into four sections ― “American Icon & Everyday Life,” “Object and Identity,” “Object and Perception,” and special exhibition “American Modernism.”

“The word ‘object’ came to the fore in the contemporary art world ever since Marcel Duchamp threw an ‘object’ into his art. Now developed through surrealism, neo-dadaism and pop art, objects are playing an important role in giving meanings and values to everyday objects and expanding the realm of art,” said Park Young-ran, curator of the exhibition.

MOCA’s blockbuster exhibition in 1993 featuring works from the 1992 Whitney Biennale attracted more than 250,000 visitors. Whitney Biennale, organized by the Whitney Museum, is one of the three major arts biennales in the world. Although it changed its policy in 1997 to host foreign artists residing in the U.S. as well as American citizens, the biennale is still considered a festival that most vividly portrays the American art of the day.

The exhibition runs from June 11 to Sept. 25 at the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Deoksugung, in central Seoul. Admission is 12,000 won. For more information, call (02) 2188-6114 or visitwww.moca.go.kr.

By Park Min-young (claire@heraldcorp.com)
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