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[INTERVIEW] ‘Public art should be defined by citizens’

Citizens are perhaps the most important factor in defining public art, said Ahn Kyu-chul, a formative arts professor at Korea National University of Arts.

“Citizens can call hanging love locks at N Seoul Tower in Namsan public art if they like, why not?” said Ahn during a lecture to a hundred participants who had gathered at Dongdaemun Design Plaza on Saturday for Seoul City’s project to uncover public art. 

Ahn, 61, is a Korean sculpture and installation artist, writer and teacher who has been looking into the alternative prospects of contemporary art since the mid-1980s. Earlier this year, he was appointed head consultant for Seoul City’s design policy.

Ahn said Seoul City’s recent project can bridge the gap between art and citizens.
Ahn Kyu-chul, a formative arts professor at Korea National University of Arts and head consultant of the Seoul City’s design policy, poses for a photo at Dongdaemun Design Plaza on Saturday. (Kim Da-sol/The Korea Herald)
Ahn Kyu-chul, a formative arts professor at Korea National University of Arts and head consultant of the Seoul City’s design policy, poses for a photo at Dongdaemun Design Plaza on Saturday. (Kim Da-sol/The Korea Herald)
“There are many of us who do not even try to understand art. People feel distant from art, thinking, ‘What does that statue have to do with me?’” Ahn said in an interview with The Korea Herald.

“Through this project, we have tried to change that paradigm in which the public remains silent over art,” said Ahn.

Signs that citizens are starting to become more vocal over public art could be seen in 2008, when a sculpture shaped like a conch shell, named “Spring,” was installed by Cheonggye Stream.

Created by Dutch artist Coosje Van Bruggen and Swedish artist Claes Oldenburg, the 3.4 billion-won ($3.02 million) sculpture was paid for by mobile carrier KT.

Public debate was stoked over it, with some supporting its installation at the then newly refurbished stream through the heart of the capital. Others criticized it as having little links to the history of the site and being designed by foreign artists.

According to the SMG’s design policy principals, measures regarding public art should put Seoul residents before visitors, while problems should be publicly discussed -- instead of hidden -- to come up with solutions.

Ahn also mentioned the current Korean museum culture that views visitors simply as consumers.

“The local art scene has been trying via trial and error to increase audience engagement in their artworks, but there are still many that let the audience passively view art and leave exhibition halls without any impact,” said Ahn.

That is why museums here should constantly help educate audiences on how to effectively digest art to newly define it and make the local scene more active, he added.

“These ideas will become reality through this project by allowing citizens to uncover and appreciate public art. We hope this project will establish an effective feedback system to build a strong public art scene in Korea,” Ahn added.

By Kim Da-sol(ddd@heraldcorp.com)
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