Browsing records of Korean art

By Lee Woo-young

Korea’s contemporary art museum holds archive exhibition devoted to the history of photography and the museum with the opening of the digital library

  • Published : Feb 11, 2014 - 19:30
  • Updated : Feb 11, 2014 - 19:30
The digital library at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea. (MMCA)

The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea opened a digital museum library on Tuesday that offers a comprehensive collection of materials on modern and contemporary Korean art.

The two-story library, set up in the Seoul branch of the MMCA, features a collection of research materials including art books, exhibition catalogues, pamphlet files and artists’ books. The Seoul Museum opened in November last year. It is open to citizens, art students, experts and foreigners.

The first floor of the library is an expansive space where visitors can browse art magazines and art books, or search for digital files of art materials, without an admission fee. The space is equipped with modern yet cozy furniture created by a professional designer and overlooks the historic neighborhood of Samcheong-dong. 

A view of the interior of the digital library, which opened at the Seoul branch of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, on Tuesday (MMCA)

On the second floor, a section is devoted to documents and materials concerning the top 100 modern and contemporary Korean artists. Materials on individual artists have been donated by the artists themselves. Computers offer digital information on artists, exhibitions and museum collections. Artist interviews are also accessible on video files.

The MMCA keeps all of its actual materials, documents and art collections at the Gwacheon branch of the museum, which has served as its headquarters. In order to make the materials more accessible to visitors, the museum offers digitalized versions.

“The Gwacheon museum is not geographically convenient to visit as it is located on the outskirts of Seoul. But it still contains as many as 17,000 volumes of literature on modern and contemporary Korean art collected throughout the four decades of its history. The Seoul museum aims to offer them in digital format, making its collection more accessible to a wider range of visitors. We aim to present museum materials ‘larchivium’ style by combining the functions of a library, archive and museum,” said Jang Yeop, chief curator of the MMCA.

To celebrate the library’s opening, the museum is revealing rare historical records on some of the past landmark exhibitions at the MMCA. One section shows a glimpse of the making of the tower of video monitors “The More, The Better” by media artist Nam June Paik with the sponsorship of the national museum.

Another archive exhibition presents how photography has developed in Korea. It shows records on photography exhibitions dating back to the 1980s. Compiled by photographer Koo Bon-chang, who has also curated photography exhibitions, related posters and catalogues offer a look at changing trends in Korean photography.

Providing insight into the short history of Korean photography, the exhibition attempts to call attention to the primary role of photography ― depicting people and society as it is. According to Koo, the dominant photography trend is too focused on portraying landscapes and objects in an overly abstract, sentimental manner, causing young photographers to refrain from documenting unexposed sides of society.

“Many turn away from the basic principle of photography as a record and observation of the present. I hope the exhibition inspires Korean photographers to take photos of people as a reflection of today’s society and encourage them to cover difficult subjects,” said Koo at the press preview of the exhibition on Monday.

By Lee Woo-young (wylee@heraldcorp.com)