A Canadian writer teaches English and finds out what it's like to be a foreigner.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Ceci n'est pas une post

Today Shane and I went to the Seoul Museum of Art to see their René Magritte exhibit "Empire of Dreams" (which I learned of through a fellow Korea blogger).

Contrary to coincidence, the exhibit was not held at this location:


Though I feel it bears further investigation.

While en route to the museum, I passed a humorous condom vending machine I thought I should share.


While this purple anthropomorphic keyhole with its one white boot, perplexing shovel and condom tip sombrero don't exactly evoke thoughts of safe sex— they don't entirely thwart the idea either. I'm not sure whether the little beige guy is eating a hot dog, or if those are his lips... but the imagery is a little unsettling.

The walk to the museum was strange, if only for a road we went down that had extremely tight security. It's been my experience to see large numbers of armed police visible outside government complexes and museums in Korea. They look like the type who don't mess around. Not from their build, expression, or particularly menacing gestures, but because these guys carry really severe sticks. If Crocodile Dundee tried to out-stick these guys, his trademark bravado would deflate faster than a bowie-knifed balloon. Imagine a 3/4's man-sized black night-stick, more like a Scotch Claymore than a blunt instrument, and it suddenly evokes images of North American police twirling toothpicks in their hands. This unsettling stretch of road was I think between a temple and some sort of police facility. One guard made a gesture to me to put away my camera when I tried to take a picture of a tree rising over the shingles on the wall.

I quickly obliged, remembering hearing something once about speaking softly and big sticks...

When we finally arrived at the museum, it looked like this:


It was a big change from the modern, sprawling grounds of the National Museum and the War Memorial. Plus, inside in the lobby was this:


This is a single frame of a constantly shifting video-image canvas on the wall in the foyer of the museum. The images changed every blink, except for the single-screen in the middle...

See it?

Look closer...

Closer...

Closer still...

Aha! A naked woman! How subversive. The boob tube indeed...

The Magritte exhibit itself was two-floors and a fascinating look at an artist I knew very little about. I studied his seminal "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" painting in a visual culture/semiotics class at King's, but I didn't know about too much of his other work.

The exhibit was 3 years in the making, and featured 270 pieces of art, personal letters as well as 8mm personal films. The film room was one of the most interesting, with a collection of Magritte's films looped on giant, black-framed screens on the floor. They were mostly a collection of whimsical scenes of Magritte's friends exchanging hats, performing slights of hand, and his wife eating a banana in reverse. There was no shortage of hats throughout the exhibit, since bowlers are as ubiquitous in Magritte's work as dreams are in the titular hall. It flared up Shane's long-held desire to own one himself. One day, man... one day...

Since I couldn't take pictures of the works themselves, I thought I'd eschew reality as well and offer you this cyclopped, reverse flag rendition of Magritte's "Good Faith."


~fin

2 comments:

Jon Allen said...

Interesting that you liked the films.
I thought they were the weakest part of the whole thing. Why project them onto the floor?

Sam said...

Content-wise, I didn't think they were the most interesting, but I just thought the presentation was interesting. I mean, sure it's not exactly sensible to show black & white films in a dark room on the floor... but I mean... Magrite's work doesn't really ooze logic in presentation. I guess I appreciated that much. Why display tiny photographs in the center of a standard matte frame? It's a style thing.

I enjoyed seeing interactive whimsy to break-up the static whimsy I guess.

I thought the correspondence was a nice touch, with the random doodles. I'm a nut for ephemera like that. It's a pity Magrite didn't design his own stamps...