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Curatorial Journal: Olga Viso Visits the Gwangju Biennale

On a recent trip to Seoul, South Korea, where I was invited to participate on a panel at the National Museum of Contemporary Art about the role of museums in the 21st century, I had the opportunity to travel three hours south to the Korean city of Gwangju to see the ninth installment of the […]

Contrasts in Korea: Seoul’s new City Hall and Gyeongbok Palace, first built in 1395 and reconstructed in 1867. Photos: Olga Viso

On a recent trip to Seoul, South Korea, where I was invited to participate on a panel at the National Museum of Contemporary Art about the role of museums in the 21st century, I had the opportunity to travel three hours south to the Korean city of Gwangju to see the ninth installment of the Gwangju Biennale. I was joined by Walker senior curator Clara Kim and MoMA curator Doryun Chong (formerly of the Walker) to see ROUNDTABLE, which closes November 12. This sprawling global survey, with a strong focus on artists from Asia and the Middle East, includes works by more than 92 artists, artist groups, and temporary collectives from 40 countries around the world and encompasses multiple city venues, including the main Gwangju Biennale Hall, Cinema Gwangju, Temple Mugaksa, Daein Market, and several other off-site locations around the city. Some 45 commissions and 15 artist residencies were realized in ROUNDTABLE.

Curated by a six-member team of Asian curators, all women, the show uses the metaphor of the roundtable as a locus for nonhierarchical exchange and the intersection of divergent perspectives and urgencies. Despite best efforts to hold in balance a multiplicity of contradictory world views, artistic sensibilities, and curatorial approaches, the spirit of the roundtable seemingly devolved during the show’s organization and, the result was an unfortunate hodgepodge of an exhibition with very mixed results and uneven curatorial selections and positions.

As is always the case in these massive biennial exhibitions, individual artists and works stand out to make the journey and research worthwhile. For me, the highlights were:

1. Kim Beom, Yellow Scream, a deadpan instructional video about how to “express” emotional states in painting

Still from Kim Beom’s Yellow Scream. Photo: Kunstbeeld

2. Julia Dault’s sculptures made using acrylic board, Formica, and other industrial materials

Julia Dault, Untitled 25, 2012. Photo: Gwangju Biennale

3. Haroon Mirza’s acoustic environments

Haroon Mirza, Taka Tak, 2008. Photo: Gwangju Biennale

4. Abraham Cruzvillegas’ interventions in an abandoned house

An “autoconstrucción” in Gwangju by Mexico City–based artist Abraham Cruzvillegas. Photo: Olga Viso

Cruzvillegas’ found-object installation was created in an abandoned house adjacent Cinema Gwangju. Photo: Olga Viso

5. Royce NG collaborative project in the Daein Market incorporating video, graffiti and performance

6. Poklong Anading’s manicure station for market workers in the Daein Market

Poklong Anading, Anonymity, 2012. Photo: Gwangju Biennale

7. Magnus Bärtås’ film and performance documentation for Live Biografi, memorializing a late friend

Magnus Bärtås, Live Biografi, 2012. Photo: Gwangju Biennale

8. Pedro Reyes’ instruments and musical performance using repurposed guns

Pedro Reyes poses with a musical instrument made from melted-down guns. Photo: Flashartonline.com

9. Simon Fujiwara, Rehearsal for a Reunion (video), 2011

Simon Fujiwara, Rehearsal for a Reunion, 2011. Photo: Gwangju Biennale

10. Wael Shawky, Telematch Sadat (video), 2007

Wael Shawky, Telematch Sadat, 2007

11. Moon Kyungwon + Jeon Joonho, The End of the World, a futuristic video installation also seen at dOCUMENTA (13)

Moon Kyungon and Jeon Joonho, The End of the World. Photo: YouTube

12. Anri Sala, Tlatelolco Clash (video)

Anri Sala, Tlatelolco Clash, 2011. Photo: Gwangju Biennale

13. Šejla Kamerić, Bosnian Girl (poster), 2003, and 1395 Days Without Red (video), 2011, about graffiti left by a Dutch soldier Srebenica in the 1990s and about street snipers, respectively

Šejla Kamerić, Bosnian Girl, 2003. Photo: Gwangju Biennale

Šejla Kamerić, 1395 Days Without Red, In collaboration with Anri Sala and Ari Benajamin Meyers Starring Maribel Verdu and Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra, 2011. Photo: Gwangju Biennale

14. Maha Maamoun’s assemblage of film clips from Egyptian films tracing the recurrence of the pyramids from the 1950s onward

Maha Maamoun, 2026, 2010. Photo: Gwangju Biennale

15. Julieta Aranda & Anton Vidokle, Notes for a Time/Bank, which they also installed at dOCUMENTA (13):

My colleagues and I particularly enjoyed the off-site projects, which took us to Cinema Gwangju, where Abraham Cruzvillegas’ interventions in an abandoned 1930s home adjacent to the Cinema made the space and its history come alive in similar ways to Theaster Gates’ project at the Huguenot House at dOCUMENTA (13) earlier this year. Cruzvillegas, who was recently awarded the Yanghyun Prize in Korea, is the subject of an upcoming survey exhibition at the Walker that opens March 23, 2013, curated by Clara Kim.

Sculpture by Abraham Cruzvillegas. Photo: Olga Viso

We also visited the six artist projects interspersed throughout the local food market, the Daein Market, filled with memorable fish and meat delicacies. The market neighborhood also houses many artist studios and collectives as well as shops for local artisans.

A view from Daein Market. Photo: Olga Viso

A highlight in the market was Korean Kim Beom’s video Yellow Scream.

Olga Viso and Clara Kim react to Yellow Scream. Photo: Doryun Chong

The last stop on our visit to Gwangju was to the historic Mugaksa Temple, where artists Wolfgang Laib and U Sunok created installations in one of the buildings in the compound of this impressive Buddhist Temple.

Temple Mugaksa. Photo: Olga Viso

Offerings left at Temple Mugaksa. Photo: Olga Viso

Wolfgang Laib’s Unlimited Ocean, 2011. Photo: Olga Viso

While in Seoul, we also visited Mediacity Seoul, a recurring biennial exhibition of media art hosted by the Seoul Museum of Art, as well as a survey exhibition of Korean artist Lee Bul. Bul’s work from the Walker’s collection is included in Midnight Party, now on view in galleries 4, 5, and 6 at the Walker. Read my top picks from Mediacity Seoul

Lee Bul’s installation. Photo: Olga Viso

Lee Bul’s new sculptures of vomiting dogs. Photo: Olga Viso