Modern and Contemporary Korean Art

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Term 2
Module code
FHEQ Level
Department of History of Art and Archaeology & School of Arts

Module overview

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, a student should be able to:

  • demonstrate understanding of the chronological framework for the development of modern and contemporary Korean art
  • identify and critically analyse key works of art produced by Korean artists during the 20th and 21st century using appropriate vocabulary
  • assess critically the materials and themes explored in the course
  • have an understanding of the themes, issues and debates of modern and contemporary Korean art
  • identify and compare different approaches to modern and contemporary Korean art and to place them within the context of East Asian cultural and historical traditions.


  • One hour Lecture, one hour Seminar

Scope and syllabus

This course addresses the development of Korean material and visual culture in the 20th and 21st centuries. Selected material, including paintings, sculpture, textiles and ceramics, produced in North and South Korea as well as by the Korean diaspora will be discussed chronologically while parallels and comparisons are made with Chinese and Japanese contemporary traditions.  The course will also examine recent developments within the art world including the use of performance, installation and video art.

In assessing art produced on the Korean peninsula as well as that by the Korean diasporas in Asia, Europe and the USA, the course places local productions of the arts within a wider set of questions, particularly with regards to the development of a Korean aesthetic and the representation of local identities in material culture. Themes concerning modernity, nationalism, globalisation and gender issues will also be covered.

The course contents are largely arranged chronologically. The first half of the course covers arts from the early and mid-20th century, while the latter part examines art from the late 20th and 21st century:

  1. What is Korean ‘modern’ painting?
  2. Korean art during the colonial period
  3. Arts of the post-war era of the 1950s
  4. Monochrome art of the 1970s and minjung art of the 1980s
  5. Art in North Korea
  6. Museum visit
  7. New media: Video art and photography
  8. The Korean Pavilion at the Venice Biennale
  9. Arts of the 21st century
  10. Unseen examination: Slide test

The content of the course compliments other History of Art and Archaeology MA courses in several ways. It will be one of several half unit courses on modern and contemporary Asian and African art offered in the department, thereby enabling students to specialise in the arts of this area.

The proposed course will be offered in Term 2, thereby allowing students to take Charlotte Horlyck’s half unit course on Arts of Koryo and Chosen Korea in term 1. This course covers Korean material culture from the 10-19th century and is an appropriate, though not compulsory, precursor to the proposed course.

Active use will be made of blackboard and other electronic resources.

Method of assessment

  • One 2,000-word essay (worth 70%)
  • One open book object analysis test (worth 30%)

Suggested reading

  • Ahn Soyeon, “Korean Contemporary Art opens towards polyphonic voices as cultural criticism,” in Turner, Caroline (ed.). Art and social change: contemporary art in Asia and the Pacific. Canberra, ACT: Pandanus Books, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, the Australian National University, 2005
  • Chung Hyun-min. Modern Korean ink painting. Elizabeth, NJ ; Seoul : Hollym, 2006.
  • Clark, John (ed.). Modernity in Asian art. Broadway, NSW : Wild Peony, 1993
  • Fargier, Jean-Paul. Nam June Paik. France: Art Press, 1989.
  • Featherstone, Mike. “Localism, Globalism and Cultural Identity,” in Wilson, Rob and Dissanayake (eds). Global. Local. Cultural Production and the Transnational Imaginary. Duke University Press, 1996, pp. 46-77
  • Hertz, Betti-Sue et al. Past in reverse : contemporary art of East Asia. San Diego Museum of Art, 2004
  • Ivy Wu Gallery. Breaking the surface: Contemporary Korean ceramics. The National Museums of Scotland, 2000.
  • Kim Sooja. Kim Sooja : conditions of humanity. Lyon : Musée d'art contemporain ; Milan : 5 continents, 2003
  • Kim Youngna [Kim Yŏngna]. Tradition, Modernity and Identity: Modern and Contemporary Art in Korea. Seoul and New Jersey: Hollym, 2005
  • Kim Youngna [Kim Yŏngna]. 20th century Korean art. London : Laurence King, 2005.
  • Korean Contemporary Art. Seoul: Hexa Communications, 1995.
  • Lee Yongwoo. Information & reality : Korean contemporary art. Edinburgh : Fruitmarket Gallery, 1995
  • Portal, Jane. Art under control in North Korea. London : Reaktion Books, 2005,
  • Portal, Jane and Beth McKillop (eds). North Korean culture and society : papers from the British Museum/BAKS study day 2001 and BAKS study day 2002. London : British Museum in association with the British Association for Korean Studies, 2004.
  • Poshyananda, Apinan et al. Contemporary art in Asia : traditions, tensions : India, Indonesia, Philippines, South Korea, Thailand. New York : Asia Society Galleries, 1996
  • Raffel, Suhanya. “Suh Do-Ho: who am we?” in Seear, Lynne (ed.). APT 2002 : Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art. South Brisbane, Qld. : Queensland Art Gallery, 2002.
  • Sinsheimer, Karen and Anne Wilkes Tucker with Bohnchang Koo. Chaotic harmony : contemporary Korean photography. Houston : Museum of Fine Arts, 2009.
  • Starkman, Christine and Lynn Zelevansky. Your Bright Future. 12 Contemporary Artists from Korea. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. 2009.
  • Wells, Kenneth M. (ed.). South Korea's minjung movement : the culture and politics of dissidence. Honolulu : University of Hawaii Press, 1995.
  • Wu Hung. “Contemporary Asian Art as Global Art: A ‘Diachronic’Approach in Presenting Contemporary Art,” in Gwangju Biennale 2006. Fever Variations. Gwangju Biennale, 2006, pp. 21-31.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules