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Korea Artist Prize returns after overhaul

Nov. 10, 2023 - 17:17 By Park Yuna
"Who Will Care for Our Caretakers" by Lee Kang-seung

The Korea Artist Prize has returned after the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea pledged to improve the 11-year-old annual artist award, strengthening the judge system and curation in order to present finalist artists’ practices in a deeper and more holistic way.

The four artists who were announced as finalists for the prize -- Kwon Byung-jun, Gala Porras-Kim, Lee Kang-seung and Jun So-jung – unveiled their recent works at the exhibition, “Korea Artist Prize 2023,” at the MMCA Seoul, which will run through March 31, 2024. The exhibition opened Oct. 20.

The winner of the prize will be announced in February 2024 with prize money worth 60 million won ($45,572). The other three finalists will receive 50 million won each.

The content of the exhibition were improved by presenting each artist’s previous works along with the newly created pieces for the exhibition to help viewers understand the finalists' artistic practices in greater depth.

The museum will host workshops early next year, inviting the public, selected artists and judges to facilitate discussions on Korea’s contemporary art beyond awarding the winner of the exhibition.

"Untitled (Efflorescence)" by Gala Porras-Kim is on display at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea as part of Korea Artist Prize 2023. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

The exhibition’s judging system and quality of exhibition had been under criticism over the past few years, leading the museum’s former director, Yun Bum-mo, to overhaul the prize system and its exhibition last year.

As the only annual art award given by the national art museum, the Korea Artist Prize, inaugurated in 2012, aims to support up-and-coming artists in collaboration with the SBS Foundation.

Lee, a multidisciplinary artist who explores transnational queer histories, pays homage to minorities who fought for their rights to express themselves. He titled the exhibition, “Who will care for our caretakers,” a question from a poem written by American poet Pamela Sneed (1964- ) in response to the queer community during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, who took care of each other, though many of them also died, asking the question, who will look after their caretakers now?

An installation view of the exhibition of Jun So-jung at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea as part of Korea Artist Prize 2023 (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

As an interdisciplinary artist, Jun has shown works that transcend space, time and history. The artist’s exhibition at Korea Artist Prize marks her attempt to expand her artistic practice to virtual reality, creating augmented reality. Her new works are also on view at Barakat Contemporary, a gallery located next to the museum, marking the artist’s first solo show at the gallery.

Based in Los Angeles and London, Gala Porras-Kim is a Korean-Colombian artist who focuses on the frailty of human structures, posing questions about the ways in which the original meaning of surviving cultural heritage and relics are forgotten or reinterpreted based on the contemporary classification systems of museums and art institutions.

Kwon Byung-jun looks into how we can expand solidarity. He selected a robot as a companion for human society for the exhibition, presenting robot-based works and performances such as “How to Stand Up,” “Ochetuji Ladderbot” and “Robot Crossing a Single Line Bridge.”

"Robot Crossing a Single Line Bridge" by Kwon Byung-jun (courtesy of the artist)

The judges include Aaron Cezar, founding director of the UK-based Delfina Foundation; Binna Choi, director of the Casco Art Institute (Utrecht); Michelle Kuo, a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York; Nav Haq, associate director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp; Yuka Uematsu, chief curator at the National Museum of Art Osaka; and MMCA Director Kim Sung-hee.