Jennifer Barclay reports from the official opening ceremony of the new Korean Cultural Centre UK.
Korea has been ‘setting the pace of popular culture far beyond its boundaries in the last decade,’ noted Mr Andrew Ramsay (left) of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in the opening remarks at the launch of the Korean Cultural Centre off Trafalgar Square on 30 January.
Popular culture does seem to be the focus of this coolly designed new space with its glass walls and funky chandeliers. But it’s also about the fusion of rich traditions with contemporary dynamism, as the Korean Ambassador, Dr Cho (right), explained in his speech: a recognition of an artistic legacy. And so past the video art on the walls floated lovely ladies in brightly coloured hanbok, and the speeches were followed by a traditional tea ceremony (bottom).
The room beyond the ceremony was buzzing with conservation, and so I entered the fray. Everywhere were the Men in Black — important chaps from embassies and LG and Samsung. The illustrious crowd included representatives from Imperial College, SOAS, Asia House, the Asia Editor of BBC World, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Bubbly and pretty little canapés were offered unstintingly.
An abundance of art people were there to see the Centre launch a vibrant and varied visual art exhibition. Entitled Good Morning, Mr Nam June Paik, it focused on homage to the work of this video artist who died in 2006 and whose three major video pieces were being shown in London for the first time. But in celebrating his spirit of creativity, communication and collaboration (he worked with people like John Cage and Allen Ginsberg) it showcased 24 contemporary Korean artists.
My favourite entrepreneur and stringer for various Korean publications, TJ, was milling about so I asked him his opinion. He showed me Junsung Bae’s ‘The costume of painter kiss’ (surely an erroneous translation?), an image of a Renaissance couple embracing — but wait, when you saw it from another angle, the woman was alone and naked. ‘Beautiful!’ said TJ. He said last time I wrote about him it was only partly non-fiction, so you can decide whether or not I made that up.
I loved a piece called ‘Soft Power’ by Duck Hyun Cho (below left), a drawing which apparently merged a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II with his own mother in a gorgeous piece with flowing swathes of cloth; funnily, not the only royal nod, as Miyeon Yoon had created a striking Elizabeth I with a Korean face (below centre). My attention was also drawn to Woojung Chun’s delicate recreations of human organs in gauzy material juxtaposed with intriguing handwritten vignettes of women (below right); presumably there was a change in the selection at the last minute as unfortunately another piece of hers is in the beautifully produced exhibition programme.
Something I missed was Atta Kim’s photograph of the untouched wilderness that has grown in the DMZ during half a century of Korea’s division. Definitely worth returning for, among other pieces. The Director of the Walsall Art Gallery told me his favourite was Youngin Hong’s ‘Landscape-Bankside’, a psychedelic interpretation of the cityscape from the Millenium Bridge. The collection seemed to me well chosen with something for everyone.
Watching the Ambassador being filmed by KBS, I thought what a nice man he always seems. The young student of International Relations I was chatting to, who’d just finished a month’s internship at the embassy and was off on a tour of Europe by bus, agreed — Ambassador Cho was her professor back home — and agreed with me that it had been an exciting evening. I left thinking what a brilliant occasion it had been, and what an excellent venue — and was only dismayed to see in the literature I received that the Korean Cultural Centre would only be open 9.30–5.30, Monday to Friday. How sad not to be able to go back or encourage others to visit.