Introduction to Modern Korean Art

Korea University

Course Description

  • Course Name

    Introduction to Modern Korean Art

  • Host University

    Korea University

  • Location

    Seoul, South Korea

  • Area of Study

    Art, Art History, Asian Studies

  • Language Level

    Taught In English

  • Course Level Recommendations


    ISA offers course level recommendations in an effort to facilitate the determination of course levels by credential evaluators.We advice each institution to have their own credentials evaluator make the final decision regrading course levels.

    Hours & Credits

  • Credits

  • Recommended U.S. Semester Credits
  • Recommended U.S. Quarter Units
  • Overview

    Summary of course and learning outcomes:

    Over the past ten to fifteen years, contemporary Korean art has become increasingly prominent on the global arts scene. Major museums and galleries in American and Europe have hosted exhibitions featuring contemporary Korean artists, and their art works are sold at major arts fairs around the world. This course is a respond to this new, rising and exciting field.

    The course explores the development of Korean art in the 20th and 21st centuries through detailed explorations of a diverse range of material, including paintings, sculpture, installation work and video art. The course covers key artistic movements which took place in South Korean during this time, including abstract art, Monochrome art, Minjung art, and post-modernist art, and seeks to place them within a broader historical, political and cultural framework. Art traditions of North Korea will also be covered as a way to explore similarities and differences between works produced in the two Koreas. Art works by prominent artists will be discussed in detail, including works by Kim Whanki, Kim Ki-chang, Park Seo-bo, Park Soo-keun, Suh Do-ho, Kim Soo-ja and Lee Bul and many others.

    Classes will range from formal lectures to seminar-style sessions. Museum and gallery visits also form an important part of the course. In particular we will make use of the excellent collection housed on campus in the Korea University Museum, and students are encouraged to make as many visits as possible to museums and galleries around Seoul.

    By the end of the course, students will have gained an understanding of the chronological developments of arts produced on the Korean peninsula during the 20th and 21st centuries and they will be able to situate Korean art works from this time within a broader context of East Asian cultural and artistic traditions. They will also be able to place local Korean productions of the arts within a wider set of theoretical framings, including issues of modernity, nationalism, globalization and gender.

    Attendance and class participation

    Active participation is an essential part of the learning process. Students are required to attend classroom lectures and participate actively in classroom discussion and presentations by peer students. For active classroom participation, students are urged to read required readings in advance.

    Course Outline (please note that this course outline may change slightly):

    Week 1: Introduction – what is ‘modern’ art?

    In the week, we will critically assess the study of modern and contemporary Korean art by Western and Asian scholars, research trends will be explored and useful publications and websites will be introduced. Key historical events of the 20th and 21st centuries will be mapped out, and the foundations for the development of modern Korean art will be outlined. We will consider the following questions: What is ‘modern Korean art’? What are the origins of ‘modern art’ in Korea? Are questions of modernity pertinent to the development of modern Korean art?

    Week 2: Arts of the colonial period

    Korea was colonized by the Japanese between 1910-1945. Though a subject of much debate, the beginning of the Japanese colonial period is by many seen as the start of the modern period (kundae), coinciding with the rise of modern art. This was a time when literati traditions conflicted with Western-style oil painting. New subjects matters were also introduced, including portraits of women, and the reclining nude. The public art exhibitions that were organised in Seoul had a strong bearing on how people interpreted art. We will explore the at times uneasy relationship between the new and the old as reflected in Western forms and methods of art versus traditional Korean ones.

    Week 3: Arts during the War years (1950-53) and the rise of abstraction in South Korea (1950-1970)

    During the Korean War some artists continued to produce works, and we will explore the ways in which their works characterize this period. Some artists, such as Park Soo-keun and Lee Jong-seop, produced works that succinctly captured the period of desolation in South Korea during and immediately following the war. After the war, South Korean artists were keen to embrace ‘modern art’ leading to an interest in abstract art. From the late 1960s to the early 1980s, representational images were replaced with works in monochrome colours, giving rise to the Monochrome Art Movement.  It was led by a number of established artists in their forties who in abandoning imagery sought immaterialisation and unity with nature. Conscious of Korean traditions, the artists took a renewed interest in the identity of Korean culture.

    Week 4: Arts and culture in North Korea, and Minjung Art of the 1980s

    The end of the Korean War (1950-53), saw the division of the Korean peninsula in 1953 along the 38th parallel which gave rise to the establishment of the two Koreas: the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the north, and the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the south. Though the two Koreas share a common history, as well as traditions and language, the 50 years of separation has had a paramount influence on the arts. During this week we will look at how arts and culture developed in the DPRK. In returning our attention to South Korea, we will explore arts produced during the 1980s when artists became involved with the minjung movement. It lead to the production of artworks that were markedly different in style and content from abstract art of the 1960s and 1970s.

    Week 5: Arts of the late 20th and 21st centuries

    In this week we will discuss works by artists who have featured prominently on the international arts scene since the late 20th century. One of the first Korean artists to reach international fame was the video-artist Paik Nam-June who is widely credited for being one of the founding forces of video art. We will look at his life and his works, and assess his influence on Korean video art. We will also discuss how other new media, in particular photography, has come to play an increasingly important role on the contemporary arts scene as, with artists such as Bae Bien-u receiving international acclaim. Since the late 1990s many prominent Korean artists have exhibited at the Venice Biennale, such as Jheon Soocheon (1947-) who received the Special Prize at the 1995 Venice Biennale while works by Lee Bul, Cho Duck-hyun and Suh Do-ho have been collected by Western museums. We will consider the diverse questions these artists raise in their works and consider whether there are any underlying communalities which bring them together. In this week we will also question the current state of the contemporary Korean arts scene and discuss its future developments.

    Week 6: Exam Revision and exam

Course Disclaimer

Courses and course hours of instruction are subject to change.