Friday, April 29, 2011

Super heroes saved the party

Two years ago I was burned at a costume party. Mid Canadian winter I stood in a lesbian dive bar in short-shorts, a long jacket, and a wild printed shirt. There was but one other costume, the girl wearing my motorcycle jacket on my arm. She just looked like a dyke.

So I did not stuff tights and an extra set of underwear in my bag when I set off for my afternoon. I figured, the ink on the Facebook invite differs from the show up norm. I was wrong.

In the park I met four super heroes. Heavy Metal Man, Super Richard Simmons, The Thrasher, and Donatello. Beer Girl, Canada Man, and Super Snookie were on their way. The Koreans ate it up. They posed for pictures with them (with us) rarely asking what I was.

All the fun, I missed out, the wet blanket in the crew. And so next time the theme is decided, on the costume goes.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The camera conundrum

All year we’ve been standing in front of things, cranked neck and peace sign, toothy whites bared for the lens. The benches are set up all over the nation, at movie theaters, museums, and amusement parks.

At every tourist trap there is a set-up photo-op, but this exhibit was made specially and exclusively as one. Women in black clothes stood idly near each painted wall, eager to tell us where to stand and which way to turn.

The Trick Photo Exhibit is where the fun house meets school picture day. So one morning before work showed up clutching cameras and were shepparded through the show.

We escaped killer snakes, caught big fish, and painted on the Mona Lisa Smile. We slipped ourselves inside each silly photograph and hoped to disappear into the art. Last we left giggling, a dozen new photos to take home on our memory cards.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Cherry death

Around this time of year all the cherries die. The death march begins on the beaches in the south and works its way north. The blossoms that lined my walk to work this week turned a dark red and finally brown.

But before they winked away for the next eleven months, I made it to Seoul Grand Park. After a morning walk through the dark hall of an art show I disappeared into the trees. Overtop the zoo happy smiles rode down the blue and white striped gondola.

The hippo bus trucked through the canopies, wheels crushing dying pedals on the ground. A motorcycle man sped through the shadows as I lay back down on the sidewalk and took in the site above.

Before the blistering heat of summer breaks, there on the last Sunday of cherry season, I was happy it was spring.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Mountains and money trees

There is a new superstition among wealthy Korean families. Hang one of Kim Chong Hak’s paintings in your apartment to cloak the home in luck. The flower-heavy landscapes bring special fortune to sons and daughters taking university entrance exams, or so the story says.

So Seoul’s ladies who lunch have taken to visiting the artist’s current retrospective show, says the museum’s staff. Now in his eighties, Hak is double the age of the mid-life crisis that started all the fame. Like his peers at the time, Hak began his career in abstracts. Dark early works show brushstroke skeletons in black and white.

One day Hak decided to turn his back on the west’s Jackson Pollock craze. The movement’s concepts, he felt, never translated to the Korean art scene, only amounted to copies of surface aesthetics and wasted time.

Instead he started to paint flowers. He left his art world, wife and family behind, and moved to the mountains. At Serok Moutain he took long walks with butterflies, scribbled in bright, new crayon colours.

He painted the greens of summer, browns of fall, pinks of spring, and whites of winter. His paintings turned from dark and serious to colorful and youth. Vibrant manic brush stores and layers of rainbow lines collage the faces of flowers in his work.

The positivism resonated with the Korean mass. At age sixty, the work started to sell. Underneath his mountain Hak found both peace and his money tree. And with the young sons and daughters of his country, Hak managed to share his luck.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Art and commerce

The best art in my city sits outside the mall. Yawoori and Shinesaegae loom over our downtown, anchoring the city to itself. Inside the double department store complex, over-priced everything mixes with usual suspects: a multiplex, McDonald’s, and the Gap.

There’s no line between pleasure and commerce here; the sex is all the same. When the high-end department store Galleria opened in my neighborhood, they brought out Andy Warhol Brillo boxes and stacked them next to the cappuccino stand.

So a small sculpture garden lives outside of the boxish stores. The shoppers rush hungrily through the spinning doors, oblivious to two of art’s big names. Two of Keith Haring’s sketch-like sculptures sit under the department advertisements, one yellow and one blue.

Across from them is Charity by Damien Hirst. A broken leg and teddy bear, her sign mocks the bags that walk through the checkouts: Please Give Generously. A mushroom cloud of clinkering bronzed pots and pans is under her, a really pretty bomb.

A proud pig is tucked behind the coffee shop, on a plaque with its name. Not Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf, though armless and skin dripping off. Newest is a found sculpture by Londoner Rory Macbeth, who had a hobby of re-painting car wreck castoffs from English delinquents, including this piece—shown at Art Basel in 2003.

At the front left corner is the cleanest metaphor. Furthest from the dollars dropped is a purse big enough to fit a dozen shoppers. And as they leave with ecstatic purchases, I hope none of them consider what it means.