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Burberry, Bamboo And Hello Kitty: Contemporary Korea In California

by Claire O'Neill
Aug 23, 2010

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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.

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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