An unprecedented exhibition with the theme of “The Future is Bright” by the North Korean artist Kim Guang-Nan opened at Anna Schwartz Gallery in Melbourne on 20 April.
It has been curated by Doug Hall in conjunction with Nicholas Bonner, a Beijing-based impresario who has worked closely with artists in North Korea for nearly three decades.
The curator Doug Hall who set up the Asia Pacific Triennial while he was the director of the Queensland Art Gallery worked for nearly a decade trying to get art from North Korea into the APT, which surveys the best contemporary art from the region every three years.
Hall met Bonner back when Hall was at the Queensland Art Gallery and they did a deal that if they could ever get an exhibition like this up, they would do it together.
Many things taken for granted in the Western art world could not be assumed when putting this exhibition on.
(Local Space Transport, 2015. Image courtesy Kim Guang-Nan and Anna Schwartz Gallery.)
That the Pyongyang-based artist would be named, for one.
"Nick wanted to use a nom de plume for Kim, as a kind of protection for him," says Hall. "I said that isn't going to happen in the West. Given your closeness to North Korea and your impresario status there, it will look bad if the artist doesn't have a name yet you and I do."
The artworks did not have titles when Hall first saw them, either, but he convinced Bonner that Western collectors would expect them.
Kim Guang-Nan was born in 1953, a few months after the Korean war's July armistice, and trained at the Pyongyang Central Art Academy. The exhibition of linocuts references the comic books of the artist's childhood, which contained their share of propaganda about events such as the failed American missile launch of 1957 and the successful launching of Russia's Sputnik missile in the same year.
( Conservation of the Sea, 2015 by Kim Guang-Nan)
(World Rescue Team, 2015 by Kim Guang-Nan)
"It's socialism shaped by the influence of Soviet idealism, where science, exploration and the vastness of its imaginative reach might become part of a proletariat dream," says Hall.
He believes it to be the first show by a North Korean artist in Australia that's not in the social realist tradition that typifies most of the country's art.
( Inside the submarine, 2015 by Kim Gung-Nan )
The Future is Bright by Kim Guang-Nan, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne, April 20 to May 21.