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[Opinion] Art Bribery

Posted May. 18, 2007 03:14,   


In October of 1960, twelve young painters hung their large paintings on the outer wall of Deoksu Palace, in which the Korean Art Exhibition, a national exhibition, was being held. The “Wall Exhibition” was organized in protest against the national exhibition. Seoul National University emeritus professor Yoon Myeong-ro, who participated in the “Wall Exhibition,” said, “We wanted to point out that Korea was holding on to an obsolete state-run exhibition when the trends of world art were rapidly changing.” There have been disputes and protests against the national exhibition, including award refusals due to discontent, painting withdrawals, and the holding of a separate exhibition for those artists who did not win awards.

The strong sentiment against the national exhibition proved its significant popularity. The national exhibition, incepted by the government to promote art in 1949, was the only path to recognition for hungry artists. One could become a celebrity overnight by winning the President’s award. However, the selection process has been constantly questioned after decisions were finalized, amid rumors of jury bribing by some of the entrants.

Voices against the national exhibition rose when 58 awarded paintings were stolen while on tour in 1978. In 1982, the government decided to hand it over to the Korean Fine Arts Association (KFAA), an artists’ organization. The exhibition was renamed the “Korean Art Great Exhibition.” Managed by artists without the government’s interference, however, the exhibition was still haunted by shameful rumors and scandals. Nothing much changed.

Scandal broke out once again. The art world should not refute criticism of the exhibition as it was revealed that the chief director of the KFAA, who was supposed to supervise the exhibition for fairness, played a leading role in the scandal. The scandal dealt a hard blow to the art world at a time when the long-stagnant art market was finally showing signs of revival. We cannot wait for self-cleansing action in the art world. Public art competitions have become a thing of the past. Judging the value of art is subjective and changeable. The Korean Art Great Exhibition, a breeding ground of scandal, should be abolished.

Hong Chan-sik, Editorial Writer, chansik@donga.com