Why Australia is destined to stay on the margins of worldwide artwork

Final month, inside 24 hours, I travelled from the Sydney Modern artwork honest to 2 festivals in South Korea: KIAF Seoul and Frieze Seoul. The distinction was putting, as are most cultural contrasts between Australia and South Korea.

Sydney Modern, celebrating its tenth anniversary, was held at Carriageworks over 4 days. It featured 96 galleries, with Australian sellers within the overwhelming majority. It attracted 25,000 guests and generated gross sales of roughly $21 million.

KIAF – the Korean Worldwide Artwork Honest, which has been working since 2002, was held on the large COEX centre in Seoul, alongside the inaugural version of a second artwork honest, Seoul Frieze, a prestigious boutique occasion launched in London in 2003, and New York in 2012. The Koreans received the bid for the fitting to host the primary Asian Frieze, as a part of an formidable marketing campaign to turn out to be the centre of the Asian artwork market, a title often assigned to Hong Kong.

The 2023 Korean International Art Fair.

The 2023 Korean Worldwide Artwork Honest.

KIAF, which featured 210 galleries, attracted 80,000 guests over 5 days, whereas Frieze Seoul, with 121 galleries, managed 70,000 over 4 days. Mixed gross sales have been estimated at AUD $70 million.

Whoever coined the phrase, “comparisons are odious”, clearly had a lot to lose on this course of. Comparisons between South Korea and Australia are enlightening as a result of they present what will be achieved by an aspirational nation with a powerful dedication to artwork and tradition. Australia can study an ideal deal from South Korea’s funding in creativity as a gentle energy technique that has raised the nation’s worldwide profile and generated billions in income.

Once we think about South Korea has a inhabitants of 52 million towards Australia’s 26 million, we would think about ourselves profitable if we produce and earn half as a lot as they do. It’s clearly not a easy division by two as a result of historical past, geography and different elements play vital roles in figuring out a nation’s character and productiveness. Nonetheless, in permitting for Australia’s wealth and pure sources, alongside the Koreans we appear like underachievers.

It’s not merely that the respective artwork festivals in Seoul entice 3-4 instances as many guests as Sydney Modern or take pleasure in 3-4 instances the quantity of gross sales. What’s notable is that South Korea is seen as a quickly rising centre of the worldwide artwork market, whereas Australia stays on the margins. Frieze Seoul, as an example, had the total complement of Uber galleries that don’t discover it worthwhile to journey to Sydney.

Sam Jinks’ Iris - The Messenger at Sydney Contemporary.

Sam Jinks’ Iris – The Messenger at Sydney Modern.Credit score: Kate Geraghty

The Koreans have artists corresponding to Do Ho Suh – just lately featured at Sydney’s Museum of Modern Artwork – who’s a a lot greater star than any Australian artist, dwelling or useless. Or Nam June Paik, recognised as the daddy of video artwork. Or Lee Ufan, whose work is being avidly collected by museums all world wide. Or Park Website positioning-bo, whose work are showing in each worldwide artwork honest. Kim Soo-ja has an enormous set up at Sydney Trendy, whereas Haegue Yang is being featured on the Nationwide Gallery of Australia.

South Korean galleries corresponding to Hyundai, Kukje and Arario are fixtures at main artwork festivals, in a approach that no Australian gallery can match.

Earlier this yr, a large survey known as Hallyu! The Korean Wave was featured at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum and given a really constructive reception. Australia’s final foray into London was the shambolic exhibition imaginatively titled Australia, on the Royal Academy of Arts in 2013, for which responses ranged from lukewarm to scathing.

Korean artist Do Ho Suh recently had an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Korean artist Do Ho Suh just lately had an exhibition on the Museum of Modern Artwork.Credit score: Dominic Lorrimer, Daniel Dorsa

The comparability extends throughout the board, to the fields of cinema and literature. Australia presently has no director so extensively celebrated as Bong Joon-ho, who received the 2020 Academy Award for Greatest Image, with Parasite; not to mention administrators corresponding to Park Chan-wook (Resolution to Go away, 2022) (or Lee Chang-dong (Burning, 2018).

There have been 11 Australian characteristic movies launched in 2022, versus 58 Korean options. This isn’t counting these films that have been funded and accomplished, however by no means bought a theatrical launch. In Australia, that is the widespread destiny of most native productions, in Korea it describes a small minority.

Final yr, the Literature Translation Institute of Korea supported the publication of 150 works in 27 totally different languages. One in all them – Bora Chung’s assortment of gothic tales, Cursed Bunny, was shortlisted for the Worldwide Booker Prize – a prize received by Korea’s Han Kang in 2016, for The Vegetarian.

Artist Gwon O-sang’s painted sculpture Untitled G-Dragon, A Space of No Name on display during the V&A exhibition.

Artist Gwon O-sang’s painted sculpture Untitled G-Dragon, A House of No Title on show through the V&A exhibition.Credit score: Untitled

Maybe the largest Korean successes have been within the realm of widespread tradition, with TV sequence and pop music dominating the large Asian market and reaching giant audiences in different elements of the world.

Australia has had its popular culture export highlights. Cleaning soap operas corresponding to Dwelling and Away have been phenomenal, long-running successes, and there have been any variety of bands and solo artists who’ve achieved massive worldwide followings, from AC/DC to Kylie Minogue.

Certainly, certainly one of Tony Burke’s first initiatives as Minister for the Arts has been a $286 million dedication to the native music trade over 4 years. The visible arts are allegedly nonetheless on the drafting board.

Bong Joon Ho accepts the Oscar for best international feature film for Parasite.

Bong Joon Ho accepts the Oscar for finest worldwide characteristic movie for Parasite.Credit score: AP

This may occasionally sound like an enormous funding, however in July final yr, the incoming South Korean President, Yoon Suk-yeol, introduced a $5.82 billion fund for the humanities. It was a convincing endorsement for a cultural sector that allegedly generated $159.8 billion in gross sales in 2021, together with exports to the worth of $19.5 billion. In the identical yr, the complete Australian “arts and recreation” sector was valued at $15.2 billion by the Division of Overseas Affairs and Commerce.

It’s price noting that South Korea’s wholehearted funding in popular culture hasn’t had a destructive influence on its conventional museums and artwork galleries. There are greater than 100 in Seoul alone. In Sydney, there are lower than 40 “museums”, with most being so small and obscure I defy anybody to call all of them. In a metropolis that’s crying out for extra, and extra numerous, museums, we now have watched the earlier state authorities systematically undermine one of many main establishments, the Powerhouse. Each the Powerhouse and Sydney Trendy these days appear much less excited about exhibitions than in internet hosting events, features and music occasions.

The lesson from Korea is that new initiatives should not have to come up on the expense of current insurance policies. Museums dedicated to social historical past, utilized arts, science and know-how should not have to rework themselves into occasion venues to boost income – or just be hip.

One other characteristic of Korean tradition is the respect paid to senior artists. There’s a museum in Seoul dedicated to Kim Whanki (1913-74) a number one modernist who was one of many originators of the Tansaekwha or Monochrome faculty of portray, which was South Korea’s first distinctive contribution to twentieth century artwork.

South Korean drama Squid Game.

South Korean drama Squid Recreation. Credit score: Netflix

Within the Ho-Am Museum of Artwork at Yongin I noticed a big retrospective of Kim’s work, charting his development from small nonetheless lifes and landscapes to giant summary canvases. Within the Busan Museum of Artwork there’s a particular wing dedicated to the work of Lee Ufan (b.1936), incorporating work and sculptural installations. Lee is endlessly related to the Mono-ha (ie. Faculty of Issues) motion that originated in Japan within the late Sixties. At the moment he is without doubt one of the high 10 artists on this planet, with not less than one Australian artwork museum presently planning a survey exhibition.

On the Artwork Sonje Heart in Seoul, one other giant exhibition, My Title is Pink, celebrated the work of Suh Youngsun (b.1951), an artist who represents the other pole of recent Korean artwork to the Minimalists. Suh is an expressionist, whose highly effective work have interaction with “individuals, cities and historical past”. One would possibly relate Suh’s work to the Minjung (“Folks’s”) motion that grew up after the infamous bloodbath in Gwangju in 1980, when the army authorities fired on protesters.

Minjung was additionally a response to the apolitical, disengaged nature of Monochrome portray, which had turn out to be extremely collectible by the early Nineteen Eighties. In trendy Australian artwork, we see the identical battles between figurative artwork and abstraction, however with not one of the fireplace and keenness caused by the political and social upheavals which have solid post-war Korean society. The character of Korean tradition owes an ideal deal to the legacy of Japanese imperialism, a brutal civil battle, a post-war reconstruction that entailed huge sacrifices and hardship, and a battle between democracy and army dictatorship. Out of this seething cauldron has come a nation with a fierce pleasure in its personal tradition, and a need to share these achievements with the remainder of the world. In Australia, by comparability, we’ve had a fairly quiet time, with a secure political system and an completely complacent angle towards artwork and tradition.


We will be grateful we don’t have Korea’s historical past however can study quite a bit from the sense of urgency and significance with which they strategy cultural issues. If there’s a pay-off when it comes to export {dollars} and worldwide status, it’s a reward that has been earned by a degree of dedication that has additionally seen departments of Korean research and Korean Artwork being sponsored at worldwide universities and museums.

In each space, we are able to see how a strategic funding in artwork and tradition has allowed a rustic that may be very removed from being a superpower, to turn out to be a world chief. In Australia, we must always realise that iron ore, coal and pure gasoline are by no means going to boost our worldwide profile in the identical approach as creativity, creativeness, and mind. Trade and commerce will all the time be drivers of the financial system, however for the sake of the long run we have to take a lead from the Koreans and begin investing in these human sources that may by no means be exhausted.

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