(Since we have to stay in Beijing till August 9th, we decided to explore the city and perhaps make art. )
Today, I accompanied the North Koreans to a gallery run by a Korean who is living in China. I couldn’t locate the gallery on the map of Beijing. I was told that the area is called “Old Street,” but it didn’t seem to be in the downtown.
Many artworks were on display in the gallery, which was a two-story building. The artworks were of a Socialist Realist style as are all works from North Korea. However, these artworks were more sophisticated than the ones that we often encounter under the category of Socialist Realism. At first glance, they were landscape paintings, portraits, and paintings depicting scenes of everyday life. Some of them illustrated historical events, such as the life of prisoners during the Korean War (1950-1953). Most of them felt like traditional Asian paintings that include both images and text. Looking more closely, however, all of them referred to history, the lives of laborers, or a socialist progressive vision. These works were different from usual Socialist Realist work in that they were not assertive but instead were humble and explorative.
The Korean Chinese owner of the gallery knew how to collect works of art. He had a variety of works by many artists. But he also showed us a few boxes that contained a number of sketches and pencil drawings. Just two artists created these two-dimensional works: Han Geyong Bo and Hwang Yong Jun. The gallery owner was proud that the collection included almost all of the small works produced by these two artists. It was a specific œuvre that the collector had attempted to achieve. He told us that he is still buying works by these two artists whenever they appear on the market. He also had purchased obviously fake ones. He seemed to be very determined to collect all works that were made by these two artists in this style.
The visiting North Korean artists highly admired the gallery owner. He was doing something that they were not doing and he made them think about different ways to organize their art practices when they return back home.