Editor's Pick

Burberry, Bamboo And Hello Kitty: Contemporary Korea In California

There's a new exhibition at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. And it's not just new to the museum. Chaotic Harmony: Contemporary Korean Photography is being touted as the first major U.S. exhibition of photographs made by Korean artists currently living in Korea. The show, on display through Sept. 19, features 40 photographers and spans broad themes like urbanization, identity and anxiety.

  • Seo Woo and Her Pink Things, 2006, from The Pink & Blue Project
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    Seo Woo and Her Pink Things, 2006, from The Pink & Blue Project
    JeongMee Yoon/Courtesy of Santa Barbara Museum of Art
  • Untitled, 1999 from the series Bamboo
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    Untitled, 1999 from the series Bamboo
    Dae Soo Kim/Courtesy of Santa Barbara Museum of Art
  • Refrigerator, 2008, from the Everyday Life Project,
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    Refrigerator, 2008, from the Everyday Life Project,
    Kyung Duk Kim/Courtesy of Santa Barbara Museum of Art
  • off-line_Burberry internet community, 2005 from the series off-line
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    off-line_Burberry internet community, 2005 from the series off-line
    Sanggil Kim/Courtesy of Santa Barbara Museum of Art
  • Tour Bus, 2005, from the series Magical Reality
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    Tour Bus, 2005, from the series Magical Reality
    Sungsoo Koo/Courtesy of Santa Barbara Museum of Art
  • War of Sisters, 2008, from the series Tomorrow,
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    War of Sisters, 2008, from the series Tomorrow,
    Won Seoung Won/Courtesy of Santa Barbara Museum of Art
  • Existing in Costume 1, 2006, from the series Existing in Costume
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    Existing in Costume 1, 2006, from the series Existing in Costume
    Chan-Hyo Bae/Courtesy of Santa Barbara Museum of Art

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In this exhibition, "Korean" means South Korean. And "contemporary," the news release explains, means two generations of artists:

"... those born in the mid-1950s and 1960s, during a succession of military dictatorships when the country was still largely agrarian, and those born in the 1970s, predominantly in urban areas and who came into maturity in the new democratic era which began in 1987."

Another theme, perhaps no surprise, is consumerism. JeongMee Yoon's series, The Pink & Blue Project, is an incredible display of Korean children with their monochromatic belongings. And off-line, a series of group portraits by Sanggil Kim, assembles the oft-obscure groups that coalesce on the Internet: an Alaskan malamute community, The Sound of Music Internet community and a Burberry club, to name a few. Perhaps it's comical and curious to the viewer, but the subjects in the photographs are completely deadpan and humorless.

In fact, there's very little saying "cheese" at all. Of course that's true of fine art photography on the whole, but there still appears to be an underlying sobriety to contemporary Korean photography — if this collection is fairly representative. Karen Sinsheimer, one of the exhibition's co-organizers, proposes that the exhibition's sobriety is an expression of a conflicted culture in general. That may be a broad proposition, but the exhibition subtlety can be found in the photos.

See more from the exhibition on its auxiliary blog.

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