The Beginning of Minjung Art: On “Reality and Utterance” and South Korean Art in the 1970s and 1980s

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O Yoon, Marketing I—Hell Painting (1980), Mixed media on canvas, 131 x 162 cm


By Sohl Lee

Assistant Professor in the Department of Art History at the State University of New York at Stony Brook



Wednesday, November 29, 2017, at 6:30 – 8:00 PM

Korean Cultural Center New York

460 Park Avenue, Floor 6, New York, NY 10022

Free admission; refreshments provided



Minjung art (or “people’s art”) emerged alongside South Korea’s pro-democracy social movement in the 1980s. While many remember colorful banner paintings and large funerary portraits that amplified the revolutionary spirit during the June Uprising in 1987, the beginning of minjung art can be traced to an earlier moment in history. A wide range of dissented practices in performance, conceptual art, painting, and art criticism began to transpire in the 1970s, expanding the realm of freedom and imagination conceivable in authoritarian Korea. By 1980, the art group Reality and Utterance was founded with the goal of articulating the previously scattered ideas about art, innovation, and avant-garde spirit in the post-colonial nation.

This talk will chart how a Korean vernacular art movement was incubated and a new relationship between aesthetics and politics germinated, by examining works by artists (O Yoon, Sung Neung-kyung, Shin Hakchul, Joo Jaehwan, Kim Jeongheun, Min Jeongki, Kim Yongtae) and writings by critics (Sung Wan-kyung, Kim Yoon-su, Won Dong-suk), as well as thematized exhibitions organized by Reality and Utterance (“Images of Happiness,” “City and Vision”).



Sohl Lee is an assistant professor in the Department of Art History at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Her research and teaching focus on modern and contemporary art in East Asia, postcolonial theories, socialist aesthetics, histories of the avant-garde, and globalization. She is currently completing the first art historical monograph on South Korean political art, tentatively titled “The Democratic Avant-garde: Minjung Art and Social Movement in South Korea.”



AHL Foundation Public Lecture Series 2017
In Collaboration with Korean Cultural Center New York

AHL Foundation and Korean Cultural Center New York’s collaborative Public Lecture Series aims to provide the general public, as well as the Korean American community, with the opportunity to learn diverse theoretical perspectives on issues related to Korean art and culture and to reflect further on future interactions between Korean art and various worldwide global communities.


Organized by the AHL Foundation in collaboration with the Korean Cultural Center New York