By Hili Perlson
The 12th edition of the Gwangju Biennale, billed as Asia’s largest and most prestigious contemporary art biennial, opened in South Korea on September 7 under the title “Imagined Borders.” However, this title is in fact more of an overarching theme uniting a cluster of seven exhibitions, each curated by one or more of the total of 11 curators involved. Each one could merit a lengthy review of its own.
The international list of curators includes Clara Kim, a senior curator of international art at Tate Modern, whose section focuses on the legacies of Modernist architecture, and Christine Y. Kim and Rita Gonzalez, both from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, who co-organized a section looking at post-internet art from places where access to the World Wide Web is restricted or censored.
Other exhibitions are curated by Gridthiya Gaweewong, the artistic director of the Jim Thompson Art Center; Chung Yeon Shim, an associate professor at Hongik University; Yeewan Koon, an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong; David Teh, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore; Man Seok Kim, a curator and archivist; Sung Woo Kim, a curator at the Amado Art Space in Seoul; Chong-Ok Paek a curator at the Research Institute of Art Ecology in Korea; and B.G. Muhn, a professor at Georgetown University, whose section got a lot of play in Korean media ahead of the opening. Muhn is showcasing paintings by North Korean artists, arguably the only part of the world where Social Realism is a thriving, contemporary genre.
In addition to the seven exhibitions split across two main venues, the biennial has added a new program of large-scale commissioned works this year, some of which are installed off-site in an abandoned former military hospital. These include works by Mike Nelson, Kader Attia, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and Adrián Villar Rojas. There’s also a series of so called “Pavilion Projects” spread across the city, developed in collaboration with international institutions including the Palais de Tokyo and the Philippine Contemporary Art Network.
Despite all this focus on global exchange, however, this edition boasts the highest percentage of participating Asian artists in the history of the biennial, with 66 percent of the more than 150 artists hailing from Asia.
In short, there’s a lot to take in. While a longer review of the mega-show is still percolating, here’s a selection of highlights from several of the sections on view in the main venues to offer a sense of the look and feel of the show.