News / Arts & Entertainment

South Korea's Public Art is Not for Art's Sake

In recent years, cities have seen sculptures, paintings and all manner of artistic installations sprout like mushrooms, both inside and outside of office buildings. Many critics think the attempt at urban improvement is not a pretty picture.

Public art in Seoul, South Korea
Public art in Seoul, South Korea

Multimedia

This is definitely not art for art’s sake. It is, rather, art for the law’s sake.

A South Korean law requires owners of large buildings to set aside one percent of construction costs for art.

But what qualifies as art? That is left up to design committees run by local governments.

Hong Kyoung-han, the chief editor of "Public Art" magazine, says the result of the 15-year-old law is disappointing.

"More than 90 percent of it is problematic. It has no relationship to the architecture and no form," he said.  "There is no artistic sense whatsoever. There are thousands of works of arts on display publicly in Seoul, yet most of them are viewed negatively."  

Many critics say they hesitate to regard as art the similar chunks of metal, human-shaped sculptures and reflective orbs plopped in front of most big buildings. So ubiquitous, they generate little notice from passersby.

A few are harder to ignore. A steel company paid nearly $1.5 million to famous sculptor Frank Stella to build "Amabel." Some people have called for its removal, complaining that it quickly rusted.

Oh Se-hoon is the mayor of Seoul. He is a big booster of urban design and the city beautification campaign begun under his predecessor.

Mayor Oh says the one percent law initially deserved praise because it helped beautify cities. But, he says, the law is not achieving its aim.

"Because it is enforced by law, people install art out of obligation without any passion or an eye for true art," he said. "Thus we end up with art that hardly can gain public acceptance."

Magazine editor Hong, however, does not want to see government involvement disappear entirely.

"If we just leave it to the developers of buildings, we cannot expect to see much in the way of cutting-edge, high-level art," he said. "And only a small number of building owners would put art on public display. So, for now, government participation is necessary."

Oh presides over a city that, thanks to the law, has put on display 6,000 sculptures, 1,200 paintings, dozens of murals and hundreds of other items ranging from calligraphy to handicrafts.    

"Great art in the right place gives citizens a sense of relief and relaxation," he said. "These days I’m into fun designs which will give people a smile or make them laugh among the hustle and bustle of city life. I want to see art installed here that gives people peace of mind."

To appease those who do not find peace of mind from the more questionable pieces of art, South Korea’s Culture Ministry wants a change of scene. It is proposing an art reform bill. Instead of placing art on their properties, owners could contribute a smaller amount of money to a public art fund.

More of Seoul's public art:

All photos by S. Herman

You May Like

Koreas Mark 61st Anniversary of War Armistice

Muted observances on both sides of heavily-armed Demilitarized Zone that separates two decades-long enemies More

Judge Declares Washington DC Ban on Public Handguns Unconstitutional

Ruling overturns capital city's prohibition on carrying guns in pubic More

Pricey Hepatitis C Drug Draws Criticism

Activists are using the International AIDS Conference to criticize drug companies for charging high prices for life-saving therapies More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Students in Business for Themselvesi
X
Mike O'Sullivan
July 26, 2014 11:04 AM
They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

The Hamilton Live

Acclaimed jazz saxophonist Tia Fuller has made a name for herself appearing with such high-profile artists as Beyonce, Esperanza Spalding, and Terri Lyne Carrington. Tia and her quartet performed music from her CD “Angelic Warrior” on our latest edition of "The Hamilton Live."