September 5, 2019 - National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gwacheon - The Square
September 5, 2019

National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gwacheon

Courtesy MMCA Korea.

The Square
The fiftieth anniversary exhibition of MMCA Korea
September 7, 2019–March 29, 2020
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The Square
The fiftieth anniversary exhibition of MMCA Korea
September 7, 2019–March 29, 2020
Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / YouTube

This year marks the centennial of the March First Independence Movement of 1919 as well as the semicentennial of the MMCA, first opened in 1969. In commemoration of these momentous anniversaries, three of the MMCA venues (Seoul, Gwacheon, Deoksugung) co-present a joint exhibition highlighting the history of Korean art spanning the 20th and 21st centuries.

Part 1 of the exhibition, hosted by MMCA Deoksugung, surveys the early half of the 20th century, while Part 2, hosted by MMCA Gwacheon, presents a contextual display of the latter half from 1950 to the present. Part 3, hosted by MMCA Seoul, highlights a range of issues in contemporary Korean society.

This exhibition breaks away from conventional organization based on artistic styles or schools, placing Korea’s turbulent history at its center to examine how art responded and adapted to rapid changes in society. Alluding to Choi Inhun’s novel The Square with its title, the exhibition sheds keen light on the problematics of individual vs. community in a divided Korea, retracing how these modes of existence, riddled with historical challenges, have been repeatedly debated and reinterpreted throughout the years.


Part 1 / October 17, 2019–February 9, 2020 / MMCA Deoksugung

Featuring approximately 120 works and 180 archival materials by some 80 artists including Chae Yongshin, Oh Sechang, An Choongsik, Kim Yongjun, Kim Whanki, Lee Quede, and Lee Jungseop

The Square: Art and Society in Korea 1900–2019, Part 1 spans the years 1900 to 1950, focusing on the legacy of historical figures who upheld a tradition of “righteousness” throughout the bleak times of late-19th-century Enlightenment, Japanese occupation, and liberation.

On display are autographs left behind by artists who fought in righteous armies as well as traces of fierce struggle waged by countless artists as they painstakingly pursued Joseon’s spirit and aesthetic despite the loss of their country. Organized under such keywords as “records of the righteous,” “art and enlightenment,” “voices of the people,” and “the heart of Joseon,” the exhibition presents reflections of the time discovered across all media, including artwork, early-20th-century newspapers, magazines, and posters, as well as archival materials on theater and cinema.

Part 2 / October 17, 2019–March 31, 2020 / MMCA Gwacheon

Featuring approximately 430 works and 300 archival materials by some 220 artists including Pen Varlen, Park Sookeun, Chang Uc-chin, Yoo Youngkuk, Suh Doho, Lee Bul, and Christian Boltanski

The Square: Art and Society in Korea 1900–2019, Part 2 reframes the history of Korean contemporary art in line with societal and artistic issues as well as individual lives. The exhibition space unfolds as a place transcending ideologies and generations, inclusive of individuals and communities. The “square” of the exhibition title stands for both a common ideal and a field of reality. Keywords derived from each historical period—such as “war,” “resistance,” “freedom,” and “women”—are interpreted anew and brought to new light through pieces in the MMCA’s collection. Korean art is also reexamined in light of various fields including cultural history, literature, and theater. The collaboration of specialists across disciplines, along with their joint discovery of materials, serves to redefine Korean art history. The MMCA Festival and correlated interactive programs will also invite viewers to join in as co-creators of the exhibition’s “square.”

Part 3 / September 7, 2019–February 9, 2020 / MMCA Seoul

Featuring 23 works by 12 artists including Oh Hein-kuhn, Song Sungjin, Ham Yangha, Hong Seunghye, Eric Baudelaire, and Nalini Malani

The Square: Art and Society in Korea 1900-2019, Part 3 asks what the “square” means to those living in this current day and age. As Korea saw the publication of Choi Inhun’s The Square (a representative work in Korea’s era of division), campaigns for democracy, and candlelight vigils, the term “square” has come to bear a historicity and timeliness that transcends specific locality.


The exhibition interprets the contemporary “square”—where solidarity, division, and utter confusion coexist—as a space for questioning and reflecting upon the meaning and role of community, hence addressing the queries and quandaries that individuals face within pluralized communities by way of contemporaneous artworks. The relationships between oneself and the other, oneself and the community are explored through such various platforms of art as photography, video, installation, performances of interdisciplinary art within and without the museum walls, and a book of short stories compiling the works of seven novelists.

National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gwacheon
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