Monday, February 08, 2010

Kwon Jinkyu's "No!" to Life?

No! (싫어)
Kwon Jinkyu (권진규)
(Image from Art Museum)

After church yesterday, I went with my wife and two kids to see the Kwon Jinkyu art exhibition at the National Museum of Art on the grounds of Deoksugung Palace, which is located in the heart of downtown Seoul, just across from the old Seoul City Hall. The exhibit runs to the end of this month (February 28, 2010).

My ten-year-old son and I were both struck by the power contained in the terracotta statue depicted above, particularly remarkable for such a small work, merely 27.6 x 29.2 x 24.0 cm. The entire figure would fit comfortably within a cube only 30 centimeters along each of its three dimensions -- that's about one cubic foot, for the metrically inept among my readers. Anyway, I had already looked at it for a while and had moved on to other works when my son came to take me by the hand and lead me to the piece again. He was listening to an explanation in Korean of this artwork and wanted to tell me in English what was being said. Briefly put, what was being said by the artist was hard for the experts to say . . . and therefore hard for En-Uk to tell. I guess that was the "No!" message: "No Telling!"

But maybe it was intended to somehow express dissatisfaction with life, an anger building up within the artist himself and not just an emotional state depicted in the statue alone. I really don't know, but five years later, as the modest age of 51, Kwon Jinkyu killed himself. Oddly, the "Biography" on one of the exhibition's walls read:
"Committed suicide after seeing his work in display at the Korea University Gallery."
This sort of English construction leads the reader to infer that something about Kwon Jinkyu's work on display in the Korea University Gallery brought that artist to kill himself. Sun-Ae tells me that the original Korean is more ambiguous, perhaps intending only to present chronology, not causality.

Does anybody know why Kwon Jinkyu committed suicide?

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At 11:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am Jienne Liu, a curator of that exhibition, working in the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea
In the brochure, I explain the death of artist according to what he did in the morning of day he commited suicide.
Inspiring from Buddhism, Kwon always said 'Life is vanity'. Around 70's he was in desperate to live as an artist. He didn't get much intention, less financial income and no self-esteem. Even he tried to commit suicide in 1972.
After his self portrait was shown in Korea University Gallery he might have felt the fullfillnes of his wish and goal. And it is the end of his mind in my opinion.
I am not sure that my explanation will make you understood or not. If there will be any other further question, don't mind to asking me.

At 7:17 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thank you, Jienne Liu, for the explanation. I think that I understand.

Perhaps Kwon Jinkyu felt that life was vanity, but he seems to have suffered anyway, despite his Buddhism. Perhaps he couldn't relinquish his desire for recognition, but also felt the emptiness of that -- and the emptiness of the recognition that he did finally receive when his self-portrait was shown?

There's some irony that a self-portrait might have brought on his suicide.

Jeffery Hodges

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