Exhibition Review:

Lee Bul – Beginning

By: Stefani Oh ‘21 

Seoul Museum of Art
Exhibition Hall, 1st Floor
March 2, 2021 ~ May 16, 2021

Lee Bul

I was unfamiliar with the the artist when I first found out about this exhibition. I did not recognize that the title of the exhibition: ‘Lee Bul,’ was the name of the artist, because Lee Bul also means ‘blanket’ in Korean. This might sound silly and disrespectful to the artist, but I thought the exhibition about a traditional fabric or textile of Korea. However, I realized that Lee Bul was the name of artist and that the exhibition was about the artist’s earlier works in her career after reading a description on the museum’s website. I think a title of an exhibition is as important as the content and context. The title of an exhibition should grab attention and spark curiosity among the audience.

The exhibition of ‘Lee Bul – Beginning’ welcomes visitors with a huge balloon-like soft sculpture that is also interactive. A foot pump is placed around the sculpture on the ground and people go and pump air into the sculpture. However, I did not pay attention to the pump nor the text label that explained that the sculpture was interactive. Then I saw people were pumping hard and I realized the function of the pump around the sculpture. Honestly, I did not see that the sculpture was actually filling with the air when I tried pumping, but it attracted visitors to come and try anyway.
This exhibition had three parts besides the sculpture in the lobby and visitors begin with the first part of exhibition from the entrance on left side. Staff were standing at each entrance to guide visitors. I was curious about why the staff made visitors follow the order of exhibitions, but I started to get it once I entered the second part of the exhibition. So, the first part is about the soft sculptures and drawings of the sculptures. The soft sculptures look a bit grotesque overall because the shapes of sculptures are disoriented and combined of human body figures made with textiles. A few were hung and others were stacked from the ground, and I think they appeared as stack of corpses. While the exhibits were not aesthetically pleasing, they were unique in that visitors could learn about the perspective and characteristics of Lee Bul. The first part of the exhibition was the only zone that visitors could capture the works, while the second and third parts of the exhibition prohibited taking photos and videos.

The second part of the exhibition had twelve large screens in a dark and rectangular room. Twelve screens played different clips of Lee Bul’s performances from the 80s and the 90s. Six screens were placed on one wall and the other six were placed on the opposite wall. Most of the clips were very provocative and sensational and made visitors hesitate to continue watching and also bit confused about what the artist’s messages were. For example, one of the video features her fully nude and hanging from a rope. After that I understood why the staff made visitors follow the order of the exhibition and prohibited taking photos and videos. I even saw parents visiting with their children leaving immediately after entering the second part of the exhibition. I was also not expecting this exhibition to turn out like this. Also, there were no warning signs or age restrictions anywhere in the exhibition spaces. I don’t know if the artist thought that her works are for everyone or if the museum thought that way, but I think museum should have some sort of warning because not all visitors research the exhibitions before they visit.

The last part of the exhibition was less grotesque and provocative, but still carried the artist’s uniqueness. The exhibition features many mediums including objects, photographs, drawings and sculptures. This room had the most artwork among the exhibition and also was the brightest room. The first part of the exhibition was dim and the second part was dark, so the last part’s brightness made me feel like I had just escaped from a cave.

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