Exotic meets cutting-edge Aug 20 2013
Gauguin reinterpreted by contemporary artists

Paul Gauguin, the 19th century French painter whose work is frequently described as primitive, exotic and erotic, reflected in his work his idea of paradise.

Lim Young-sun’s “Mandala” is among the contemporary art works displayed aside the iconic paintings of Paul Gauguin in the Seoul Museum of Art’s “Gauguin: Voyage into the Myth and After” exhibition. / Courtesy of SEMA

The Seoul Museum of Art (SEMA) is currently displaying some of Gauguin’s most definitive work, and is proving to be a magnet for art lovers and students. The exhibition is highlighted by his paintings “Where do we come from, What are we, Where are we going,” “The Yellow Christ” and “The Vision of the Sermon.”

The exhibition “Gauguin: Voyage into the Myth and After,” hosted by Hankook Ilbo, a sister paper of The Korea Times, marks the first time the three iconic paintings are displayed in the same space.

It also features the work of five contemporary artists inspired by Gauguin under the theme “The Idyllic Synthesis.” Kim Yu-yeon, who organized the work of the contemporary artists, said that the paintings, installations and videos illustrate the modern legacy and influence of the post-Impressionist movement.

Paul Gauguin’s “Where do we come from, What are we, Where are we going”

Kim, a veteran curator who lives and works in New York, has a wealth of experience in managing international exhibitions, including Poland’s Mediations Biennale in 2008 and the Johannesburg Biennale in 1997. She also put together the “Hanji Metamorphoses” exhibition in New York last year, which explored the possibilities of “hanji,” or traditional Korean handmade paper, as a contemporary medium of art.

Comparing contemporary artwork to Gauguin’s timeless pieces is a refreshing experience, thanks to Kim’s delicate arrangement that combines the work within a context.

The exhibition follows Gauguin’s work from his earlier days in Paris to the time he spent in Tahiti, but between these periods is an installation of red mirrors by Korean artist Roh Jae-oon, ''Jataka Mirrors (Mirrors of Previous Birth),’’ that visualize his idea of the past, present and future.

Gauguin went to Tahiti as part of a desperate search for an erotic Eden. It’s debatable whether the images of exotic idylls and the Polynesian beauties he painted there were a genuine representation of life on the South Sea island.

Rho Jae-oon’s “Jataka Mirrors”

“The Tahitian women in Gauguin’s paintings were portrayed from the viewpoint of a French colonialist, whether Gauguin intended this or not. Juxtaposing Gauguin’s works with those of contemporary artists is a way of questioning whether it’s fair to expect objective awareness of a person confined to his time and place,’’ Kim said.

Another Rho piece, “Stardate,” is placed across Gauguin’s ''Where do we come from, What are we, Where are we going.’’ Gauguin’s most famous painting reflected his thoughts on life, death and what comes after it.

Rho does the same with “Stardate,” an object shaped like a tombstone and marked with the dates of his birth and the death of his mother. The Korean artist seemed to be influenced by the Asian concept of reincarnation, but it seems he was announcing his ideas instead portraying them.

Lim Young-sun's “Mandala,” a large portrait of a Tibetan boy, is a modern interpretation of Gauguin’s painting mixed with social commentary, obviously on the Chinese oppression of Tibet.

Chinese artist Yang Fudong's three-minute video “Lock Again” captures young people aimlessly wandering, symbolizing the discrepancy between ideals and reality. Rashaad Newsome's video “Shade Compositions” attacks the social hierarchy of gender and race.

Marco Brambilla's three-dimensional video “Evolution (megaplex)” is a digital collage of imagery from some 600 hit Hollywood movies, which takes movies to the level of anthropology.

These contemporary works clearly show the contradiction between ideal and reality which Gauguin pondered throughout his life, and suggest a way of appreciating the post-Impressionist master’s works, Kim said.

The museum opens till 9 p.m. and is relatively less crowded in the evenings. Kim said that visiting the exhibit in the evenings can provide more time in appreciating the juxtaposition of Gauguin’s masterpieces with the brilliant contemporary works on display.

The Gauguin exhibit runs until Sept. 29. For more information, visit www.gauguin.kr or call 1588-2618.

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