The Korea Herald


Legacy of Korean modern art on view

By Lee Woo-young

Published : April 17, 2014 - 20:25

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The late artist Kim In-soong once asked the May Queen of Ewha Womans University to model for a portrait.

The painting depicts the modern young woman sitting on a wooden chair, wearing a flower-patterned dark turquoise sleeveless blouse and matching skirt. The white moon vase and LP turntable on a wooden cabinet in the background provide hints to the year the painting was made. But her classic style ― mid-length naturally straight hair, a silver watch and flats ― give a timeless value to the work painted in 1966.

“When we were hanging paintings on the wall for the exhibition, artists who knew the background story of the portrait told me the girl was more beautiful in reality. They said the portrait wasn’t enough to capture her real beauty,” said Kang Soo-jeong, curator of the exhibition “Then and Now” that commemorates the 60th anniversary of the National Academy of Arts of the Republic of Korea.

“The woman is now 70 years old and lives in the U.S. But she remains the Madonna of modern Korean art.” 
“Listening” by Kim In-soong (MMCA) “Listening” by Kim In-soong (MMCA)

The exhibition showcases 79 artworks by 35 late and 22 current members of the respected art institution. Artist Youn Myeung-ro, one of the current members whose paintings are on exhibit, said the founding of the National Academy of Arts in 1954 was a “miracle” in the war-torn country. It was established just a year after the two Koreas signed a truce on the three-year Korean War.

“The members of the Academy of Arts have played a pioneering role in modern and contemporary art. We’ve held exhibitions every year since 1979. They have presented a variety of works including paintings, sculptures, crafts, calligraphy and architecture,” said Youn at the press conference on Wednesday.

The members are highly regarded figures in the Korean art community. Some membership requirements include an art career of 30 years with notable achievements and recommendations from existing members of the academy, national art institutions and presidents of universities with art colleges.

The exhibition is divided into two parts. The first features works by late members and starts with landscape paintings by founding chairman Ko Heui-dong. The other shows works by current members including Chun Kyung-ja, Lee Dae-won and Suh Se-ok.

Another distinguished member is Kim Whanki, pioneer of abstract art in Korea. Kim is an internationally acclaimed modern artist whose works still fetch record prices at art auctions. According to Youn, Kim made great contributions to establishing the National Academy of Arts.

Many of the late members were also founding members of prestigious art colleges in Korea. Sculptor Yun Hyo-chung was among those who established the sculpture department at Hongik University. His wood sculpture of a girl holding a bow and an arrow is displayed at the center of the exhibition hall.

The large “Buddhist Dance” painting by Chang Woo-soung is also on view. Chang is known for drawing the portrait of Admiral Yi Sun-shin engraved on the front surface of the 100-won coin.

The exhibition runs through July 27 at the Deoksugung Branch of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea. For more information, visit

By Lee Woo-young (