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'Korea has respect for design'

Paola Antonelli, senior curator at the Department of Architecture and Design at the famed Museum of Modern Art in New York, said Korean artists and designers are very diverse in style.

Paola Antonelli, 48, senior curator at the Department of Architecture and Design at the famed Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, has an open mind for talented designers and keen eyes for finding good design.

“It was great as always,” she said recalling her four-day visit to Seoul on the day of her departure, Thursday. It was her fourth visit to the city at the invitation of Hyundai Card.

When she first came here in 2008, she was here to create the “Humble Masterpieces” exhibit at Hangaram Design Museum, Seoul Arts Center.

“On the first day, I walked from Jongno 3-ga to 5-ga and then walked by the site where the new Museum of Contemporary Art building is going to be and went to a few galleries there,” she said.

Namdaemun Market was another favorite of Antonelli. “I also went to Namdaemun because I had a colleague who had never been to Seoul before and wanted to show her the market. It’s always interesting to see the market,” she said. “I loved the part with pillows, comforters and blankets, because that’s so Korean — Koreans used them to sit on more than we do and there’s much more tradition with pillows.”

The MoMA curator met several young Korean artists including Choe U-ram, Mok Jin-yo, Song Ho-jun, Yang Soo-in, Yang Min-ha, Randomwalks, Sticky Monster Lab and Everywhere, at the Hyundai Card Auditorium the next day. “From every single one of them, I saw work that I didn’t know before,” she said, adding that they were very diverse in style.

“There’s something about Korean designers I like very much. First of all, they like to work with media, electronics and digital technology. They are comfortable with them and use them in a poetic way,” Antonelli said. “So even though some artists are traditional such as painters and sculptors, there is a great search of digital and multimedia art here.”

Antonelli said fine artist like Choe and creative studio Sticky Monster Lab using multimedia go well together on the Korean art scene.

“I am also amazed by attention to art given by the government. It is amazing to see how many museums there are with free entry and the many art platforms sponsored by local government,” she said. “It is a commitment to the art. I think that Korean culture is not only about product or furniture design, but it is rather about all these different forms of design that are contained within art.”

She later visited Incheon Art Platform to see Joon Moon, a designer who participated in “Talk to Me,” a MoMA exhibition exploring design communication between people and objects on display from July 24 to Nov. 7, curated by Antonelli and sponsored by Hyundai Card.

Though “Talk to Me” will not travel to Korea, she is expecting more collaboration with Korean artists and designers.

“My exhibitions tend to be global as designers and artists are global — they travel with their cultures and become transnational,” she said. “The liveliness of Korea is quite amazing. I think Korea has more respect for design than any other country.”

Being a curator

Antonelli quoted Emilio Ambasz, a MoMA curator in the 1970s, to describe what curators do. “He said there are many different types of curators, such as who mostly conserve existing paintings or do in-depth research, and among them are hunter-gatherers who usually go around and find items, especially in the contemporary field.”

“My job is to be a curator — I am very good at spotting things that I like. I have a friend in Tokyo who says that when we go to department stores together, all of a sudden, I get the Terminator’s eyes. I also immediately rate things in A, B, C groups,” she said.

The curator was just full of ideas — she was thinking of an exhibition on organic design and a book on basic units of food as design, while working on a video game acquisition project for MoMA at the same time.

“We are expanding the idea of design. For example, MoMA collected 23 digital typefaces and even an ‘@’ sign,” she added.

When she curates a show, a vague, intuitional idea becomes more defined and stronger as she starts to collect the materials, she said.

For “Talk to Me,” Antonelli ran a blog linked to the exhibition’s website for a year and a half to reveal how the exhibit was organized.

“We showed everything that we were looking at and which was accepted, making the process transparent.”

She said she always has to play a “strange game” when it comes to the distinction of art and design.

“I know that people have hard time thinking of design as art. The New York Times has critics for theater, dance, painting, sculpture and even for perfume, but it doesn’t have a design critic. They don’t think design as a cultural discipline that is worthy of a critic,” she said. “Similarly, the public I have for my shows is huge, but I would say that 70 percent of them are there by chance as they come to MoMA to see Picasso and Matisse. But then they spend two hours in the design show.”

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