S. Korea marks 30th anniv. of Korean Pavilion at Venice Biennale with contemporary art

April 19, 2024

Just as islands are often linked by underwater terrain, there exists an underlying connection that unifies art across time and space.

Drawing inspiration from this analogy, South Korea unveiled a special exhibition Thursday titled, “Every Island is a Mountain,” at Palazzo Malta—Ordine di Malta in Venice, to demonstrate the transformative power of art to connect isolated individuals and fragmented societies.

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Korean Pavilion’s establishment at the Venice Biennale, this exhibition showcases the works of 36 artists and artist teams who have represented the country at the biennale over the past three decades.

The exhibition, coinciding with the 60th Venice Biennale, reflects the vision of pioneering artist Paik Nam-june, who advocated for the role of art as a unifying force transcending boundaries.

Paik played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Korean Pavilion, according to the organizer, Arts Council Korea (ARKO).

In 1993, the visual artist Paik met with then South Korean President Kim Young-sam, advocating for the construction of a Korean pavilion in Venice. Earlier that year, Paik represented Germany and won the Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion.

Two years later, the Korean Pavilion debuted as the final national pavilion at the expansive Giardini park in Venice. Since then, it has served as a platform for spotlighting the creations of talented but lesser-known Korean artists, including young and emerging talents, on the global art stage.

Among the 82 artworks by contemporary Korean artists are newly commissioned works, including Lee Wan’s “KonneXus 2024: Mountains in Islands,” which expands the exhibition theme through dialogues with artificial intelligence (AI) docents using humanistic and technological imagination and Lee Ju-yo’s “Outside the Comfort Zone,” that deals with memories of artistic collaborations.

Kang Ik-joong shows his latest work “Arirang” that captures memories of North Korean defectors’ homeland in drawings and Choi Jeong-hwa’s “nATuReNuRture” features towers built from collected styrofoam found along the coast, symbolizing a wish for ecological coexistence.

Among the reinterpreted works from a contemporary viewpoint are Suh Do-ho’s “Who Am We?”, featuring thousands of graduation album photos arranged as wallpaper, and Jung Yeon-doo’s “Sangrok Tower,” depicting life in apartments, one of Korea’s emblematic residential forms.

With the exhibition, ARKO said it aimed for the Korean Pavilion to serve as a platform for exploring artistic practices for the next generation and ensuring the sustainability of art institutions through international exchange and solidarity.