Yoo Kangyul and His Friends: Reframing Crafts
National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul
15 October, 2020 – 28 February, 2021
The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA, director Youn Bummo), presented Yoo Kangyul and His Friends: Reframing Crafts from 15 October 2020 to 28 February 2021 at MMCA Gwacheon. In commemoration of what would be the 100th birthday of Yoo Kangyul (1920 1976), this exhibition spotlights the life and works of the artist, pioneer, educator, and producer who sublimated Korean traditional aesthetics into the realm of contemporary form, working across the genres of craft, print, and interior design. Moreover, the exhibition examines the activities of his contemporaries, friends, and students to shed light on Korean contemporary plastic arts produced between the 1950s and the 1970s, centering on craftworks. Yoo Kangyul established and practiced a new order in the fields of fine art, craft, and design at a time of drastic change and restoration that followed the Korean War. He produced prominent works as a textile dyer and Korea’s first generation contemporary printmaker, and as an educator and artistic activist, he laid the developmental foundation for Korean contemporary craft while establishing the college education system for craft and design. An avant garde figure, he partook in the architectural decoration of the National Assembly building, the National Museum of Korea, and Children’s Grand Park, attempting to merge architecture, design, and craft as a way of creating an aesthetic reflective of the times.
Yoo Kangyul and His Friends: Reframing Crafts traces the course of Yoo’s career and the development of Korean craft and art in three parts: “Craft as a Medium for Post War Restoration”, “Towards a New Order of Objects”, “The Practice of Composition as a Principle of Plastic Arts” Part 1, “Craft as a Postwar Restoration Project”, surveys Yoo’s craft and art works that sought to rise above the ruins of the war that devoured the 1950s. Together with najeon (mother of pearl inlay) master Kim Bongryong, Yoo established and operated The Mother of pearl Inlaid Lacquerware Training Institute of Gyeongsangnam do Province (1951) to foster contemporary craftsmasters with background knowledge on traditional craft. This section features works by Kim Bongryong and Lee Jungsup who taught technical skills at the institute: Najeonchilgi Iljuban (Single Legged Small Table Inlaid with Lacquer and Mother of Pearl, produced during the postliberation period) and Family (production year unknown). During this period, Yoo and Chung Kyu also worked as research instructors at the Korean Plastic Arts Research Institute of the current National Museum of Korea to seek revival of Korean craft and promotion of print art. Yoo’s representative woodcut print produced at this time is also presented in this section.
“Towards a New Order of Objecthood” focuses on Yoo’s careers as a plastic artist and an educator, which both saw a new beginning in the late 1950s after his introduction to Western culture. In 1958, Yoo had an experience of the art education and scene of New York through a study abroad opportunity sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation. This section features Yoo’s collection of printed materials documentative of American art at the time along with Yoo’s print works produced using newly acquired techniques of etching, lithography, and silkscreen. Yoo went onto serve as the head of the craft department at Hongik University, where he constructed a Korean crafts and design education system infused with key values of Korean traditional craft. Also introduced in this section are Yoo’s textile design works as well as Candlestick (designed in 1975 and produced in 2000), a work by Choi Seungchun, Korea’s first generation contemporary woodcraft artist. Presented both in the form of two dimensional design and an actual object, this symbolic work produced as part of the “New Indigenous Product Design Research and Development” project demonstrates the fusion of craft and design. “The Practice of Construction as a Formative Philosophy,” illuminates the concept of “construction” that Yoo practiced as a formative philosophy through his series of works produced from the late 1960s to his passing in 1976, including collaborative architectural decoration projects and antique artworks that served as inspirations for Yoo’s design motifs. Works displayed in this section span from Silla period earthenware, Joseon period folk paintings, and ceramics in Yoo’s private collection to textile and print works produced with the antiques as motifs, and other diverse forms of craftworks produced by his students. Also installed in the exhibition hall are images of Yoo’s architectural decoration remaining at the National Assembly building and Hongik University, providing a glimpse of the scale and sculptural execution.
The exhibition features a total of 140 work by 25 Korean artists including Yoo while also showcasing seven antique artworks from Yoo’s private collection along with some 160 pieces of archival materials. Premiered in this exhibition are printed materials from exhibitions illustrative of the 1950s art scene selected from among some 3,000 pieces of archival materials donated to the MMCA’s Art Research Center by Yoo in 2014, along with his handwritten manuscript of “Composition and Man” explaining the relationship between craft and the concept of formation. As a correlated program, a live academic symposium will be held online on Saturday, 17 October, under the theme “Reframing the Horizon of Korean Craft”. Co-organized by the MMCA and the Korean Society of Art History, this event is a chance to examine in depth the multilayered context and nature of Korean contemporary craft. Detailed information is available on the MMCA website (mmca.go.kr). Youn Bummo, director of the MMCA, notes, “This exhibition is an opportunity to observe from diverse angles the nascence and development of Korean contemporary crafts from the 1950s to the 1970s an area of Korean art that has failed to be discussed. This exhibition dedicated to crafts following those dedicated to calligraphy and print all genres that had been excluded from artistic discourses in Korea seeks to vitalize contemporary crafts and open up a discussion that will help lay down the history of Korean craft”.