by Charlotte Horlyck. Reaktion Books, September 2017. 264 p. ill. ISBN 9781780237367 (h/c), $60.00.
Reviewed March 2018
Korean Art from the 19th Century to the Present, by Charlotte Horlyck, offers a compelling look at the history of Korean art and the events that shaped it. It is not purported to be a definitive volume on Korean art. The book explores Korean identity from the points of view of art and artists. It describes the history of Korean art by highlighting noteworthy events, artists, and works.
Korean Art is divided into six chapters, in which the author provides rich historical context. She uses the first chapter to explore the advent of modernity in Korea, describing such influences as foreign artists, participation in world fairs, and the introduction of Japanese rule. The next chapter focuses on art during the subsequent colonial period and the immeasurable influence that Korean artists studying abroad had on art in their home country. Most artists were limited to studying in Japan, but some were able to travel to the United States and Europe. Chapter three focuses on the Socialist Realist art that emerged in the north, under the influence of Kim Il-sung, after Korea gained its independence from Japan and the ensuing Korean War. Chapter four focuses on their counterparts in the South, who moved in the opposite direction, beginning in the 1950s with a shift toward abstraction and culminating with the uniquely Korean style of Tansaekhwa. Chapter five presents the use of art in politics in Korea in the 1980s and 1990s, including feminism and the Minjung movement, which sought democracy for South Korea. The final chapter in Korean Art explores works from the 1990s and 2000s, which are largely conceptual and critical, exploring ideas of memory and culture.
The author acknowledges the difficulty of balancing the perspectives of North and South when writing about the history of art in Korea and that the timelines of certain periods of Korean art are contested. The book features not only artists living in Korea, but members of the Korean diaspora whose work is present in the Korean art world. Korean Art includes a glossary of terms, with both Korean and Romanized characters. It also includes an extensive bibliography and references. The volume is profusely illustrated and the images are mostly in color. It is recommended for libraries in colleges and universities that teach Asian art history at the undergraduate level.