Since the opening, in recent years, of new exhibition spaces in Korea, there has been a lively debate surrounding alternative exhibitions. The debate’s background is the Korean art world’s desire for change both in its artistic tendencies and its context.
The alternative exhibition comes from the alternative space in America, home, at the end of the nineteen-seventies, of the industrial society, of rapidly changing cultural conditions, and of the avant-garde art movement. Here, “alternative space” meant small nonprofit artists cooperatives open to the kind of artistic experimentation that found no place in mainstream commercial galleries and museums.
In Korea, the alternative space is a rogue offshoot of American and Western European alternative spaces of the seventies. The Korean version seeks to inspire discussion on alternative art and to free itself from the art system and existing art paradigms. It shows art that is impossible to sell, is intimately linked to daily life and popular culture, destroys the traditional exhibition space, can make do when it is geographically removed from the conventional cultural center of the city, and is comfortable in the open air. The Korean alternative exhibition is also sometimes organized with haste, carelessness, and little regard for a coherent concept that would do justice to its status as alternative art, all because the concept’s historical background is completely opposed to the concept of the alternative exhibition in America and Western Europe.
The historical avant-garde, which appeared at the beginning of the twentieth century, became the system, while at first professing to be an alternative art. Yet its alternative aspect failed to establish itself in the midst of a rapidly evolving capitalism. Today, it is evident that this state remains, and that the alternative exhibition cannot free itself from this process.
Recent examples of the alternative exhibition underline the uncertainty of a situation in which there is no clear foundation such as the modernist system’s espousal of the historical avant-garde as the alternative art. Alternative art is already anchored in the system, so it is difficult to expose its character. Of course, in the case of a Korean alternative art, comparisons with the West are risky. More than anything else, a Korean alternative art should cast its net wide enough to incorporate method, process, and content, and to go beyond the contradictions and systematic habits that are rooted in the conventional art world. This problem can be solved by looking hard at the weight of history in modern art and defining its object. Until now, Korean art has judged itself according to the rules of Western art theory. This essential structural contradiction can only be overcome by an alternative thinking. True alternative theory, which is the fruit of an alternative thinking process, takes as its ultimate goal the organization of a system of significations that is unique to our art. When this is understood, an alternative Korean art and an alternative Korean exhibition, which are now hot subjects in the Korean art world, will undoubtedly have the right to be seen as the latest fashionable Western concepts.