Less than meets the eye Mar 13 2013
Gim Hong-sok questions the value of artists’ labor in contemporary art

A large dog sculpture guards the doors of the Samsung Life building in Taepyeongno, downtown Seoul. The creation looks like a parody of one of Jeff Koons’ balloon dogs, only if it were made of black plastic bags. But pedestrians who take a closer look are impressed that the dog is actually a delicate creation of metal.

The 600-kilogram bronze dog, titled simply "Canine Construction,’’ doubles as Gim Hong-sok’s commentary on the current state of contemporary art and the over-glorified role of artists. It highlights the 49-year-old artist’s current exhibition, "Good Labor Bad Art,’’ at the gallery Plateau, adjacent to the Samsung Life building, where it is complemented by 28 paintings, installments and videos.

Several centuries have passed since artists were considered a people confined to their rooms with brushes and chisels, enduring the lonely and painstaking process of artistic creation. Contemporary artists work in an environment where traditional boundaries have blurred and advancements in technology allow their works to be bigger, bolder and more media-oriented.

This also means artists are becoming more dependent on the labor of others. Electricians and technicians are required for video elements. Large installments require metal smiths and occasionally construction equipment.

Art can no longer be considered an isolated, individualistic process in a world when a single project could require the labor of dozens of people. It was Koons who said it best when he confessed, "I’m basically the idea person … I’m not physically involved in the production.’’

What hasn’t changed, however, is that the artists continue to get all the credit. Even Gim’s dog only has Gim’s name on it.

"Contemporary art depends on hidden labor. Gim’s attempt is to raise this as an ethical argument,’’ said Ahn So-yeon, deputy director of Plateau.

"Gim says he has hired different workers to do the mopping and sweeping and some works on the canvas. But I don’t know if I should take his words at face value as he might have said that just to make a point that his works could have been done by anyone.’’

If they pass the dog and enter the gallery, visitors will see a statue of a man leaning against the wall with a blanket over his head. Predictably, he symbolizes the many nameless people who contributed to the work of art.

"He was supposed to dance and do other things, but I decided to use a statue instead of hiring a real dancer to reduce the labor it takes to do my work,’’ Gim deadpanned.

Another notable work is "Good Critique Bad Critique Strange Critique,’’ in which three professional art critics ― Yoon Jin-sang, Kang Seok-ho and Seo Hyun-seok ― are brought in to comment on Gim’s "MOP-120512’’ and ''Self-Statue.’’

MOP-120512 is an ever-changing painting as Gim hired workers for a day to simply mop and sweep on his canvas with paint. Since he came up with the idea and paid for the worker, the painting is rightfully his, which is the point Gim intends to ridicule. Self-Statue is a resin sculpture in the shape of a box, plastic bags and a pair of slippers.

The three critics provide three different viewpoints. Yoo questions Gim’s ethics, while Kang focuses on the overall manner of Gim’s "creation.’’ Seo refers to a graduate student’s review on Gim’s work to ask him the true value of an artist’s labor in contemporary art.

“A Study on Slanted and Hyperbolic Constitution ― LOVE” takes a similar approach to “Canine Construction.” It looks as if it is composed of cardboard boxes and a sleeping bag, but it is heavy and expensive resin, in fact.

Through the exhibition, Gim intends to ask a serious question in the most lighthearted way possible.

''Many people ask me about hidden concepts or the meanings of my works and sometimes I answer differently about the same piece. I don’t lie ― it’s just that thoughts change from time to time,” he said.

Gim studied at Seoul National University and Kunst Akademie Duesseldorf, Germany, and is internationally known for his participation in high-profile biennials such as Gwangju, Venice and Taipei.

The exhibition runs through May 26. Admission costs 3,000 won. Art critics Kang, Yoo and Seo will give a lecture performance on March 22 at 4 p.m. and Gim and the critics will give a talk on May 11 at 4 p.m. For more information, visit www.plateau.or.kr or call 1577-7595.

By Kwon Mee-yoo

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