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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

North Korean Art in the US and Germany

by | March 2nd, 2014 | 07:12 am

A short feature in Yonhap caught our eye last week. An organization called the Korean Art Association is currently hosting a show of the work of North Korean artist Jong Chang-mo (1931-2010) at the Riverside Gallery in Hackensack, New Jersey; interestingly, the gallery website only advertises the show in Korean as far as we could tell. Jong crossed over from South to North during the war and became a kind of artistic hero in the North, winning international recognition for his “molgol” style watercolors. Ironically or not, the show is called “Reunification Is Bonanza: Dream of the Korean Peninsula,” a reference to Park Geun-hye’s comment on the returns to a unified Korea.

In the course of looking for information on Jong, we came across another website that we had not seen before called Gallery Pyongyang. The website’s links are not always descriptive. But the gallery—with a Berlin address–hosted a show back in 2008 called Art from Pyongyang curated by South Korean expat Samson Sangkyun Choi. Choi clearly gained the trust of the North Korean Ministry of Culture; there are a number of pictures taken at the Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang and he presents himself as a “representative” of the Ministry of Culture.

But the Home page displays a fascinating slide show of official North Korean art. In addition to a handful of jarring socialist realist pieces—a teacher looking lovingly at toys of armaments—the most striking thing about the selection is its traditionalism; only a few landscapes suggest the slightest whiff of impressionist influences and there is nothing modernist—at least as we would define it–in the collection. The Gallery link organizes by artist and appears to provide a catalogue of the entire show; the Biography link provides information on some of the more prominent artists on the site. Worth a half hour virtual weekend stroll.