On Wednesday afternoon in Seoul, a dozen people waited outside the Keumsan Gallery to see a solo exhibition that has become a flashpoint of controversy, while a couple protesters waved flags nearby on the sidewalk. The issue at hand: the artist responsible staging the show, Moon Joon-yong (문준용), the son of South Korean president Moon Jae-in (문재인), had received a grant from a government relief fund set up to aid artists affected by the economic fallout from the coronavirus.
“If you are a president’s son, shouldn’t you give a chance to other artists or give it up to someone else even if you were selected through the process?” Kim Geun-sik, a Kyungnam University professor who is a member of the conservative People Power Party, wrote on Facebook, according to the Korea Herald. (The president’s Democratic Party is a liberal-leaning centrist group.) The grant is for up to 14 million won, which is about $12,600.
Moon Joon-yong (or Joon Moon), who has exhibited his new-media art widely (unlike a certain other world leader’s artist-son), has been quick to rebuff such criticism. “My scheduled exhibition was canceled due to COVID-19 and the gallery, curator, technicians, and other parties who signed contracts with me suffered losses,” he wrote in a post on his own, the Korea Times reported. Most of the funds went to them, he said. The Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture, which awarded the grant, told the Korea JoongAng Daily that standard rules were followed and that Moon was one of 46 to receive the money as a result of canceled exhibitions.
It’s all been quite a fracas. But putting that aside, the actual exhibition, “Beyond Your Eyes, Somewhere In Between,” is elegant, alluring, and ingeniously engaging in one case.
That highlight is one of six video-based works. Titled Augmented Shadow – Outside (2020), it features a rectangular table, with short walls on two edges, that holds a skeletal frame of a house. Projected from above onto those surfaces, a video shows ghostly black silhouettes of tall men with bright eyes walking through various rooms. All the while, similarly rendered children scramble about, leaving now and then through a door that clicks closed. Dishes and glasses clink, too, and watching this feels a bit like eavesdropping. A fearsome wolf stands to one side of the home, seemingly ready to pounce, below a chilly blue moon.
This is satisfying enough, but the secret of the piece is a lantern the size of a large coffee mug that sits on a pedestal just beyond the table. It seems to be casting light onto the world. Pick it up, though, and steer it around the domestic environment, and it shifts the projections in real-time so that you can catch glimpses of other people (like a respectable-looking fellow in a shirt and tie), as well as the action in neighboring houses.
A land that seemed threatening and haunted from that original angle turns out to be a great deal more welcoming—or at least more complicated and layered as hidden vantage points are revealed.
There are also works that use classic abstract tropes of computer-generated art, as in Magnetism (2019), with its swirling, intricate lines and colors. The more captivating 소리를 향한 비행 (Flight Toward Sound, from 2019) depicts a kind of airplane form slowly cruising around a large, strange globe, from which blocks of color are emerging. When the aerial vehicle collides with one, a glowing, Music for Airports–style hum emanates from speakers. It gives a hint of the thrill of air travel, and is deeply soothing.
Regrettably, though, this was a limited-run show—it ended its one-week stand on Wednesday—so those seeking to experience such relief will have to wait for Moon’s next outing.