by REERA YOO | @reeraboo
There’s more to North Korean art than propaganda images of political leaders and rosy-cheeked farmers.
On Jan. 29, the Springtime Art Foundation launched their “Hidden Treasures of North Korea Revealed” exhibition at the Korea International Exhibition Center (KINTEX) in the city of Goyang, just north of Seoul. “Hidden Treasures” is a rare exhibit of North Korean art in South Korea, where most of the North’s cultural works are banned, since the two countries remain technically in a state of war.
The exhibition features 150 paintings of 70 North Korean contemporary artists, including international award-winning painters such as Lim Ryol, Gong Chong-kwon, Choe Ha-taek, Jong Hwa, Shin Cheol-woong and Kim Il-soo. All of the paintings are nonpolitical and focus mainly on landscapes, portraits, still lifes and animals. According to the Wall Street Journal, many artworks seem to be painted with foreign buyers in mind, with brush strokes similar to Impressionist paintings.
One painting, for example, shows a woman in a bright red bikini, a stark contrast to the military garb or conservative dresses women are often depicted wearing in photographs.
Koen De Cuester, an expert on North Korean art at Leiden University in the Netherlands, told Agence-France Presse that the painting was most likely “exclusively painted for the foreign market” and was probably not exhibited in North Korea.
“Just because a painting hails from North Korea, does not make it representative of North Korean art,” De Cuester said in a phone interview. “They produce a lot that caters explicitly to foreign tastes — or what they perceive foreign tastes to be — and the artistic merit of those works is questionable, no matter how well executed.”
Springtime Art Foundation’s art collector Frans Broersen, 63, and his partners have made several visits to North Korea since 2005 to buy paintings in bulk. Their collection has about 2,500 works, most of which came from Pyongyang’s Mansudae Art Studio, where the country’s top artists mostly churn out propaganda artworks that glorify the ruling Kim family.
“We saw North Korea as a place to acquire some very high standard works at low prices, and we’re now hoping for a return on that investment,” Broersen said, according to the LA Times.
The foundation has already held exhibitions of North Korean art in Latvia and Lithuania, the latter drawing 50,000 visitors from more than 10 countries.
“Hidden Treasures” will remain open at KINTEX until March 6.
Images via Springtime Art Foundation/Wall Street Journal