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Discovering romance in shattered soju bottles

Artist Bae Young-whan fills Plateau with his representative installations and video art


An intense vibe of a showdown filled the glass pavilion at art gallery Plateau in Taepyeongro, central Seoul.

A golden ring, about one-fourth the size of an actual boxing ring, stood in the center. Other than the boxing gloves thrown inside, the ring was empty. But there certainly were many onlookers, including the suffering sinners engraved in Rodin’s “Gates of Hell” and “The Burghers of Calais” which were both juxtaposed with the ring. The Rodin pieces are part of the permanent collection at Plateau.

“Rodin’s collections that are permanently on show can be burdensome in a way, but are also precious works that challenges artists. The dark, full and organic gate and the golden, empty and minimal ring contrasts in every way,” said Ahn So-yeon, chief curator at Plateau at a press conference held on Tuesday. 
Bae Young-whan poses with his work “Golden Ring ― A Beautiful Hell.” (Plateau)
Bae Young-whan poses with his work “Golden Ring ― A Beautiful Hell.” (Plateau)

The work “Golden Ring ― A Beautiful Hell,” reflects artist Bae Young-whan’s vision of Seoul: a heartless metropolis filled with blood-shedding competition. We never know who we are fighting with, but are forever in the ring, Ahn explained.

For his solo exhibition “Song for Nobody” that looks back on the last 15 years of his artistic career, the South Korean artist created several new works and gathered many of his representative pieces that many are familiar with.

Walking through an entrance at a corner of the pavilion, for example, the chandelier more famous than him, which appeared in the director Im Sang-soo’s 2008 movie “The Housemaid,” was found. 
“Insomnia — Song of Dionysos” by Bae Young-whan (Plateau)
“Insomnia — Song of Dionysos” by Bae Young-whan (Plateau)

Made of shattered soju and beer bottles but so amazingly elegant, the rococo-style chandelier had lit up the mansion where the heroine Eun-i (played by Jeon Do-yeon) worked as a maid in the film. In the end, Eun-i committed suicide by hanging herself on the beautiful art.

Displayed in a gallery, the chandelier seemed less luxurious and smaller than it did in the movie but not any less profound. Bae somehow pulled out the sentiments of romance and grief from the glass fragments, some of his favorite materials that are so common and trivial but can contain much significance.

Pieces of crushed glass, headache pills and rainwater are turned into musical notes in his “Pop Song” series which are enormous music scores of popular songs like Paul Anka’s “Crazy Love.” Music and romance found in trifles and hard times is in fact the penetrating theme of the exhibition.

The artist filled up the 43-square-meter exhibition space with 26 works that share the same theme but are so diverse in genre and materials that one wonders if they are really by a single person. Bae, who represented Korea in 2005 Venice Art Biennale, is known for his wide spectrum of works. This exhibition would inspire art aficionados who are tired of phony installation artists that try too hard and rarely deliver anything.

“So far I have been showing my arms, back and head separately. But this exhibition shows my entire body,” said Bae.

“If we deliberately mix different media, the result would be a weird synthesized monster. But when appropriately used depending on expressions, it becomes an artwork.”

At a corner, eyes stop at the beautifully decorated yet distorted guitars that can no longer be played. Titled “The Way of Man,” the guitars mirror men who are forced to success and be responsible of their family and society but feels like a failure instead, not being able to do so.

The soft tune of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” played through the steel-barred screen showing a video clip of a group of people who seem to be escaping somewhere on a boat, resonates in the head for long even after one leaves the exhibition.

The exhibition runs through May 20 at Plateau in Taepyeon-ro, central Seoul. Tickets range from 1,000 won to 3,000 won. For more information, call 1577-7595 or visit www.plateau.or.kr. 



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