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Young artists critique modern life

MMCA presents experimental works of young artists that touch on social ironies

A strong smell strikes viewers as they open the heavy curtain in the exhibition hall of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea. Inside hangs a huge damp cloth with a brown urine stain, emitting the ammonia-like odor.

This year’s Young Korean Artists exhibition of the MMCA is full of artistic experiments embedded with the anxiety of and satire toward modern Korean society. It features eight Korean artists in their 20s and 30s living through the crisis of Korea’s young generation, deprived of job opportunities or with an unstable job status.

Kim Do-hee is the one behind the pungent art piece, which she hopes to serve as a “reminder of the dignity of a human being.” For it, she used 100 liters of children’s urine, she said.

“I wanted the smell and stain from the urine to act as a natural reminder of the forgetfulness that prevails among us,” Kim said at a press conference for the exhibition.

“For instance, the Sewol ferry sinking ― I think the tragic event is just another accident in the end and the shocking experience and lessons we learn from it are quickly being forgotten at the speed of modern society.” 
“Waterfall Structure of Survival” by Kwon Young-ju. (MMCA)
“Waterfall Structure of Survival” by Kwon Young-ju. (MMCA)

Artist Kwon Young-ju uses industrial trash as tools to speak about the issue of survival today. The artist occupies the museum’s spacious central hall with an artificial waterfall installation made with plastics and cheap construction materials. The large amount of water falls amid the clutter, flows down to the stairway and creates a pool in the bottom.

Kwon visually reconstructs byproducts of everyday life and questions its cost and sustainability. The materials that the artist calls “trash” look rather new, the artist explains, because they had to be less filthy and smelly so they could go on display at the public museum.

The passive behavior of people in an information and technological society are the subject of the works of artist Kim Ha-young. She twists the way people express their emotions through digitized emoticons while losing their real facial expression and contact with reality. In her humorous, yet eerie images, human beings are not in complete forms, but scatter in parts as if they are machine parts of a cyborg. 
“Do Humans Dream of Growing Electric Plants?” by Kim Ha-young. (MMCA)
“Do Humans Dream of Growing Electric Plants?” by Kim Ha-young. (MMCA)

“I think the more people are connected to digital devices, the more they lose their true faces,” said the artist.

Artist Noh Sang-ho bases his work on the fictional story “There’s a town where all the people had to keep their eyes closed since they were born,” which he came up with. He invites the audience into the dark room where each side of the wall features paintings that portray the town. Viewers are given a small lantern in hand and can only get a glimpse of the small portion of the portrayal of the village where everyone has their eyes closed. 

Started in 1981, the Young Korean Artists exhibition has introduced young artists with fresh ideas and unconventional presentations. The museum selects artists whose works are not yet included in the museum collection, nor made a commercial success in the art market.

This year’s exhibit continues through March 29 at the Gwacheon museum of the MMCA. For more information, visit

By Lee Woo-young (
Korea Herald Youtube