Mia Sadowsky
Contemporary Art
Final Exhibition Paper
CU Art Museum: Keeping it Real

The CU Art Museum (CUAM) is exhibiting a show titled “Keeping it Real- Korean Artists in the Age of Multimedia Representation.” The exhibit is small but makes an impact on the viewer and leaves one questioning reality. Though all the pieces are of different subject matter they all challenge our perceptions of the world and enable our minds to see the art from different perspectives. The artists featured in this show are Kiwoun Shin, Yong-Ho Ji, Jaye Rhee, and Yeondoo Jung, all whom have cultural ties to Korea. Each artist shows his or her stories and experiences through their work. The exhibition brings to light social commentary about the rapidly changing world and the contemporary state of South Korea. Recently in South Korea, artists have had greater opportunities to experiment with new technological material such as HD video and have had the freedom to express political opinions. Because of globalization and easy access to information through the media and internet, Korean artists speak to a global audience and convey universal messages that can be understood across cultures.
Two large glass doors lead you into the exhibition room. Though the room is small the slate colored floors, tall white walls and high ceilings make the space seem larger than it actually is. As you enter the glass doors into the dimly lit room your eyes are immediately drawn to an oversized, mechanical, saber tooth tiger type creature that looks like its ready to pounce. The creature is the same color as the dark hard floor, yet every muscle is visible through its hard metal exterior. This piece is entitled Jaguar 4 made by Yon-Ho Ji in 2008. The Jaguar is made from used tires and metal scraps. In his artist statement Ji claims that the science fiction monster is “…about the dangers of our obsession with science, technology, and industrialization…” After reading his statement I saw the metal jaguar as a symbol of globalization and the damaging effects that can come when people rely on the internet and technology rather than facing real life and gaining real life experience.
The next piece I was drawn to was an HD digital video instillation by Jaye Rhee titled Cherry Blossom. The piece was made up of five different screens; on each screen was a white background with pink cherry blossom petals falling to the ground. The piece creates a sense of tranquility and calmness with the slow simple motions of the petals falling, and traditional Korean music chiming in the background that is reminiscent of a Zen temple. As the viewer moves closer to the monitors, what was thought to be the pink cherry blossom petals is actually wads of chewed bubble gum that are being spit out by a number of different individuals. The peacefulness of the video is quickly destroyed once you find out that you are looking at chewed bubble gum. The viewers’ eyes and mind are tricked into believing something completely different from reality. Rhee makes the viewer take a closer look at reality and be more critical of the surrounding world.
On the opposite wall from Cherry Blossom is another HD digital video instillation titled, Approach the Truth-Astro Boy by Kiwoun Shin. Shown on a long digital screen is an action figure (Astro-Boy) being ground down and slowly turned to dust by an industrial machine. The video is two minutes and 12 seconds long and plays over and over again, first showing Astro-Boy being ground down and then in reverse to make it look as if he were growing from his own ashes. I was entranced watching the small particles of Astro-Boys’ own body gather at his feet and rise up to form a full figure once again. What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong plays in the background and gives the video a somber melancholy feeling, like the happiness of youth and childhood is slowly disappearing. Unlike many other pieces in the exhibition the message of the video was clear and there were no optical illusions. Shin is commenting on how youth is effected by consumerism. As globalization spreads societies hold value in material products rather than relationships, family, and friends. Material products may fulfill some desires, but they are temporary. Shin also connects Astro-Boys process in the video of rising from dust and turning back to dust, to the existence of all things. In her statement regarding Astro-Boy Shin quotes “Ashes to ashes dust to dust” (Genisis 3:19). She goes on to clarify, “to explain the idea of birth, death, and emptiness is embedded in all the existences in our world…even in plastic toys.”
Taking up the entire right wall of the exhibition there is another work by Jaye Rhee titled Polar Bear. Side by side are two large rectangular pieces one is a video and the other is a photograph of the same scene that is playing in the video. The video shows a woman moving back and forth through a large bathhouse. The woman is facing away from the audience and looking at the back wall of the bathhouse. The wall that she is facing has an elaborate arctic scene with polar bears, icebergs, and frozen mountains painted on the tiles. Directly next to the video is a photograph of the same woman the same bathhouse, the same size as the video. It took me a fair amount of time to realize that the photograph was not a painting. The colors in the photograph are far more brilliant than those in the video, which led me to believe that it was a painting at first glance. The arctic painting on the tiles is reflected on the water of the bath and makes it look like there are brush strokes on the water, it is a convincing optical illusion. Once again the reality of the viewer is skewed.
This exhibition gave a glimpse into contemporary Korean art and left the viewer questioning his or her reality. I believe the exhibit intended to encourage its viewers to be more inquisitive of the world surrounding them, not to believe everything you see, look deeper, and be curious in life. The CU Art Museum is a great resource for art students and calming place to escape from the hectic world outside of its walls.

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