BUSAN, South Korea – For the past month the already well-stocked Busan Museum of Modern art has put together a small, but mostly well-chosen exhibit focusing on the period of European art from the late 1800s with the dawn of realism through the early 1900s with the rise of impressionism and more abstract movements. Each piece of art is delightfully presented by artist and year.
One of the problems with such a broad scope is the lack of cohesive thematic focus in the exhibit’s curation. There was no overarching theme other than the general period in time.
On the other hand, it doesn’t matter–the art on display is utterly captivating. Most people aren’t looking for thematic perfection and the exhibit delivers what it promises: the big names in art from the turn of the century.
This exhibit is on loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art and at the entrance there is a Philadelphia facade built in an attempt to recreate the original atmosphere. On the logistic side, it was a pleasant surprise to find that the signs written in Korean were also posted in English. Unfortunately, there are no audio tours, pamphlets, maps or any other print materials available in English (or any other language) but at least there was something. Past the entrance are four rooms, each one roughly corresponding to an artistic movement: Realism, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, Picasso and the Avant-Garde, and American Art.
The crowning jewel of the exhibit is definitely the second room, Impressionism and Post Impressionism. The light emanating from Camille Pissarro’s Afternoon Sunshine Pont Neuf or the gentle curve of an arm from Degas’ ballerinas is breathtaking. Renoir’s iconic portraits also makes an appearance. Portrait of Mademoiselle Legrand drew a constant crowd while his two strange terracotta reliefs tucked into the corner, Pipe Player and Dancer with a Tambourine were largely ignored when I was there. Surrounded by chef d’oeuvres of the Impressionists, it was clear that they were only included because of the famous maker rather than any sort of artistic relevance.
"The Watering Trough" by Marc Chagall
Monet’s representation is both stunning and thematically relevant to the exhibit. There are only a few Monet paintings, and it was interesting to note that they had a piece, Nympheas, Japanese Bridge* from the period towards the end of his career when Monet was going blind. Instead of his trademark ethereal pastels and soft light, there are harsher reds and greens. Everything is much more abstracted; it looks exactly like a blind version of his earlier paintings of the same subject. The brushstrokes are much more coarse and it feels like Monet’s anguish over his failing eyesight is being channeled through his brushwork.
My favorite piece in the entire exhibit was neither Monet nor Picasso, but The Watering Trough by Marc Chagall in the Picasso and the Avant-Garde room. The painting has Chagall’s iconoclastic distortion of proportion and absolutely luminous use of colors. It seemed infused with light, despite the dark color palate that focused on deep purple and blue hues. The hidden patterns in the man’s robe lend a feeling of mysticism that elucidates the glowing purple backdrop.
Overall, the exhibit is a lovely sampling from the time period, even if the organization is a touch arbitrary at times. If you want to spend an afternoon looking at something beautiful, then the exhibit is a good way to enliven your afternoon.
To get to the exhibit take the green line to the Busan Museum of Modern Art stop, get off and follow the signs in the station and on the street to the museum. It’s impossible to miss. The exhibit will run until June 2nd and tickets are 12,000 won for adults, 9,000 won for students, and 6,000 for children. Museum hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and is closed on Monday.
*The sign in the museum is improperly translated. Traditionally, Monet’s ‘Nymphea’ series is directly translated to its English equivalent, water lily. The translation should read ‘Water Lilies, Japanese Bridge.’
Check out Alexandra's adventures in Korea blog.