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

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital 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.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Border Crossings

Matthew Wade sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to talk about his new CD, “Diamond from Coal,” his fourth album with his band, My Silent Bravery.