August 25, 2010

"Kim Jong Il, the supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army, deeply concerned over the soldiers’ diet."

The title of a painting from an exhibit called "“Flowers for Kim Il Sung: Art and Architecture from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.... in Vienna.
By presenting it uncritically, the Vienna museum is subtly legitimizing the world’s cruelest regime....

Like most socialist realism, this “art” is devoid of complexity. Whatever talents the North Korean painters may possess are tragically subordinated to Stalinist politics and stultifying adulation of the Dear Leader. The descriptions of the artwork underline its utterly bland, primitive, and unenlightening character: “The leaders’ closeness to the people is repeatedly emphasized,” reads the press release. “Red, internationally recognized as being symbolic of socialism, is employed most frequently.” My tour guide’s attempt to distinguish the works from those produced in other Communist societies by labeling it “Idealistic Realism” only underscored the lengths to which the MAK has had to go in order to justify the exhibition....


Could one imagine, in the 1930s, an English gallery featuring Nazi art in such undiscerning fashion?...
What about a Viennese gallery? You'd think Austria would be more sensitive.... about its own reputation.

The article, by James Kirchick, ends with this great George Orwell quote: "All art is propaganda. On the other hand, not all propaganda is art." (By the way, Orwell is calling himself a propagandist there, is he not?)

40 comments:

HDHouse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cedarford said...

George Bush - He sees the wreckage of the economy he helped destroy, the sea of red ink he structurally created that Obama made worse. His beloved noble purple-fingered freedom lovers in Iraq and Afghanistan are imploding, and showing Bush and the neocons as sappy or sinister. Most of his "color" revolutions have collapsed. Supply side failed, unrestricted free trade cost America 1/3rd of it's manufacturing jobs in Bush's time. The Borders Bush left open and the everswelling unfunded Federal government he grew faster than LBJ are now crises.

Bush no doubt has moments of genuine feel that he will be remembered as the most incompetent President of the post-Civil War era.

But then he sees Jimmy Carter in N Korea and realizes maybe he won't go in the books as the most inept, clueless bumbler in the last 140 years.

Obama surely must give Dubya hope, as well.

HDHouse said...

Art Museums display art. If someone likes the art or not isn't the issue as much as it is, like in this case, a museum simply presents a display of "what is". They are hardly at fault and, in fact, there is no fault here.

The most telling quote from the article is: "By presenting it uncritically, the Vienna museum is subtly legitimizing the world’s cruelest regime."

Museums are not critics. They are facilitators of art/things/collections of how people think and what they produce. Critics are critics. Museums are not.

Articles like this just are matches to the gas can of silly thinking.

miller said...

Godwin's Law to be invoked in 3...2...1

Big Mike said...

You could get quite a useful education, Professor, from reading George Orwell. Not his famous books, 1984 and Animal Farm, because anyone with pretensions to being well-read has read them (or was forced to read one or both back in high school).

I mean his essays. Try "A Hanging" or his wartime essay "Antisemitism in Britain."

Heck, you could get a good education just going through a list of his most famous quotes, such as "as I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me" and "we sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm."

Hoosier Daddy said...

Who cares. That regime is on life support as it is.

Richard Dolan said...

"The article, by James Kirchick, ends with this great George Orwell quote: 'All art is propaganda. On the other hand, not all propaganda is art.'"

I've enjoyed Orwell's essays, but what's so great about that quote? It's quite silly, and the fact that a talented writer said it doesn't detract from the silliness.

The factor distinguishing propaganda from advocacy is its rejection of truth and substitution of service to an agenda as the primary objective of the exercise. Facts are willfully falsified with abandon; truth is an irrelevancy. In contrast art presents a point of view, sometimes for the purpose of challenging some other point of view. There is propagandistic art, but to equate the two is ridiculous.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Godwin's Law to be invoked in 3...2...1

It already was in the article ;-)

Scott M said...

That's great, HD. Please let me know all of the art museums that feature art depicting Mohammed (the prophet, just to prevent any confusion on the matter).

Art galleries make decisions all the time when to show or not to show selected pieces, thus creating de facto criticism.

I'm not saying showing North Korean art is wrong. I'm saying you are. Mostly just for the sake of saying so.

Michael said...

And yet critics apply their attention to collections of art as much as to individual pieces and thus opine on the museum's, or curator's, choice in the collection. Museums clearly present a point of view.

Orwell's essays are indeed fantastic. Orwell, by the way, is much admired by Hitchens.

miller said...

Yeah, I know. :(

It's just that I get so f***ing tired of people with lazy thinking about how "art" is simply what it is, and yet there is an entire class of art (dear to C4) that would cause an uproar if displayed publicly (such art would be an invoking of Godwin's Law).

It's the lazy thinking of people who think the death of one person is a tragedy and the death of a million people an ignorable statistic.

edutcher said...

Ann Althouse said...

Could one imagine, in the 1930s, an English gallery featuring Nazi art in such undiscerning fashion?...What about a Viennese gallery? You'd think Austria would be more sensitive.... about its own reputation.

Never forget, Vienna was home to some of the most fanatical of the Nazis. Supposedly, Vienna is a little more comfortable with that past than, say, Berlin.

The article, by James Kirchick, ends with this great George Orwell quote: "All art is propaganda. On the other hand, not all propaganda is art." (By the way, Orwell is calling himself a propagandist there, is he not?)

Depends. Orwell despised people who referred to themselves as intellectuals and hated being called one. No record that I know of, but I would presume he felt the same way about being called an artist.

miller said...

North Korea is nearly entirely a death camp.

Some people are untroubled by that as long as they can view "art."

I don't know how to express my revulsion at that attitude and my sense of hopelessness for those people - they are simply morally dead.

HDHouse said...

Richard Dolan said...
"The factor distinguishing propaganda from advocacy is its rejection of truth and substitution of service to an agenda as the primary objective of the exercise. Facts are willfully falsified with abandon; truth is an irrelevancy."

don't be so hard on the right wing..they get upset when confronted.

Michael said...

HD House: If you are going to weigh in on the matter of propaganda and art you might wish to share your thoughts on the mother of all propaganda machines, that country on which you are an expert, the USSR. Quite a few tens of millions of people were murdered by that regime and their propaganda was so effective that the left chose, and chooses, to ignore that carnage.

Fred4Pres said...

Holy crap! Did the North Koreans capture Thomas Kinkade?

Fred4Pres said...

Holy crap! Did the North Koreans capture Thomas Kinkade?

Michael said...

Fred4Pres: Apparently so. Excellent catch.

Richard Dolan said...

HD: If you want to find contemporary examples of propaganda, I'd start with these: the "recovery summer" that shows "our economic policies are working," the claim that bailouts were responsible for "millions of jobs created or saved", or the idea that Obamacare "will reduce the deficit." In each of those, one finds not only a contempt for the (obvious and contrary) truth, but another characteristic of propaganda: contempt for the intelligence of one's audience.

HDHouse said...

Michael said...
HD House: If you are going to weigh in on the matter of propaganda and art ... blah blah blah..."

Art never killed anyone. It has been used, mis-used, abused,been the subject of criticism and praise, been a national treasure and not forever.

What in the world is your point? That arts run on behalf of the state isn't art? on that you would be wrong.

on art and art content dictated by the state? on commission it can be a great thing. not on commission but on "taste"...well can be a horrible thing. Stalin and the Mapplethorpe exhibit? clearly a matter of "state tastes" dictating art and unacceptable.

You got another question?

HDHouse said...

@Dolan....what do u mean?

Michael said...

HD House: You are too hung over or confused this morning. I am going to move on.

AllenS said...

I think that it's time for Obama to pull our troops out of South Korea. I want to see some fireworks.

former law student said...

This is the trouble when you turn to The Weekly Standard to get your art history information.

Had James Kirchik gone to the exhibit last week, when Professor Alfred Pfabigan -- author of Sleepless in Pyongyang; On the failed attempt to make a skeptical European a member of the Big Red Family. -- spoke about the Kims and their failed Juche ideology, he might have had a better understanding of the purpose of the exhibit.

Instead, the only thing that fills his brain is outrage that the Museum of Applied Art did not provide a brochure explaining what everyone knows -- that North Korea is a miserable Stalinist hellhole.

You get the feeling that anyone handing Kirchick a copy of The Onion had better explain that it's satire before he, for example, starts blogging furiously.

At the very minimum, this exhibit tells Westerners how delusional North Koreans apparently are -- certainly how out of touch with reality "Dear Leader" is, because of the huge gap between these images and the everyday life of actual North Koreans.

lemondog said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
William said...

The children depicted in the poster look a lot like the kids in the old Campbell's Soup ads. Totalitarian propaganda is commercial art that advertises the state. The critics who deplore the venality and manipulation of commercial art are strangely muted when such techniques are deployed on behalf of the revolutionary state....Well, David has a fine reputation. There's no reason why some N Korean artist cannot transcend the genre and produce something worthy.

Hoosier Daddy said...

I think that it's time for Obama to pull our troops out of South Korea. I want to see some fireworks.

I have argued for years that the ROK armed forces can more than handle a NORK invasion and our presence there is a waste of money. Hell, I'll bet $10 and a bowl of kimchee that the NORK invasion would collapse the minute they found a supermarket.

Hoosier Daddy said...

At the very minimum, this exhibit tells Westerners how delusional North Koreans apparently are -- certainly how out of touch with reality "Dear Leader" is, because of the huge gap between these images and the everyday life of actual North Koreans.

Well according to Ted Turner, its the West that's out of touch with reality.

Who to believe, who to believe.

lemondog said...

From a historical standpoint propaganda art is fascinating. Ebay has tons of it.


Flowers for Kim Il Sung
is the usual mundane, banal dreck depicting fat and happy people surrounding their glorious leader.

Is the state attempting to persuade its starving citizens that they are not starving, or the outside world, ala Stalin who did persuade western intellectuals that this at the time was not occurring?

What is notable is how little imagination there is in this type of art. One could easily substitute one dictator for another.

lemondog said...

Correction:

...who did persuade western intellectuals that this at the time was not occurring?

Scott M said...

@Hoosier

From that link

Ted Turner, just back from a visit to North Korea, declared his belief in the sincerity of North Korea and how the U.S. can trust the regime's new deal to not build nuclear weapons.

LOL

Hoosier Daddy said...

@Hoosier

From that link

Ted Turner, just back from a visit to North Korea, declared his belief in the sincerity of North Korea and how the U.S. can trust the regime's new deal to not build nuclear weapons.

LOL


Tell me about it. It boggles the mind that someone who put together CNN and made billions could be so monumentally stupid.

Bryan C said...

"The factor distinguishing propaganda from advocacy is its rejection of truth and substitution of service to an agenda as the primary objective of the exercise."

That's a meaningless distinction. All art has an agenda, as do all artists. Nothing is created without a motivation. Propagandists and commercial artists are just more honest about their motivations.

"Truth" has nothing to do with it. There's not necessarily anything untruthful about propaganda. Or any higher truth to be found in a work of fine art.

John Lynch said...

No, they choose what to show. Why are they showing this? As an ironic gesture? Maybe.

LarsPorsena said...

"The factor distinguishing propaganda from advocacy is its rejection of truth and substitution of service to an agenda as the primary objective of the exercise."

Exactly what I think every time I see Picasso's "Guernica"

Lance said...

Remember Eason Jordan's disclosure that CNN had been burying news of Iraqi brutality in order to maintain access? I wonder if something similar is going on here. Maybe there's an undisclosed agreement that the MAK will present the art in a manner that pleases the DPRK.

Jordan's complaisance was pretty unforgivable. Not sure if the art exhibit rises to that level. As someone else pointed out, everyone knows North Korea is nothing but one big stanky bomb shelter. No one's gonna be fooled by a collection of Norman Rockwell rip-offs.

Synova said...

The profound contempt in the criticism is astounding. Who *exactly* in this world is not aware of North Korea's reality so that they must be protected by having a disclaimer attached to an art exhibit?

This makes me think of the little scuffle over Ernest Borgnine's lifetime achievment award thing... how his politics aren't quite exactly right so maybe he shouldn't be given the award (according to some LA paper). What? Is everything an endorsement? Everything is either condemnation and shunning or else an endorsement?

Revenant said...

the only thing that fills his brain is outrage that the Museum of Applied Art did not provide a brochure explaining what everyone knows -- that North Korea is a miserable Stalinist hellhole.

"Everybody" knows that? We've been at war with them for 60 years and around 20% of us still think they're a friendly nation. In an officially neutral and socialism-friendly nation like Austria I wouldn't be surprised if the percentage was even higher.

former law student said...

In an officially neutral and socialism-friendly nation like Austria I wouldn't be surprised if the percentage was even higher.

The urge to see everyone decently housed -- the chief accomplishent of Austrian socialism -- is different from the urge to see people with opposing points of view sent to reeducation camps, along with their families.

Neutrality gave the museum director the chance to see North Korea for himself -- the contrast between reality and the Stalinist ideal should have been obvious.

This page from Der Standard has some interesting thoughts from Professor Pfabigan. He thinks the title, Flowers for Kim Il Sung was as carefully selected for its ironic potential as was Springtime for Hitler. He's a pretty ironic dude himself: "Nowhere on earth is the saying 'The personal is political' taken more seriously than in the enormous surveillance society that is North Korea. Further, you never know if something is wrong."

Pfabigan was uninterested in the question whether giving a totalitarian regime the platform provided by this exhibition was allowed. "Should we be surprised that self-portraits are idealized versions of their artists; what each artist wishes he could be?"

http://derstandard.at/1271376865449/Blumen-fuer-Kim-Il-Sung-Es-war-ein-staendiges-Ringen-um-Vertrauen

Suburbanbanshee said...

On the one hand, a deadpan portrayal of North Korean propaganda would probably make its point perfectly well. Almost everybody knows the truth and their propaganda satirizes itself better than any of us can do, so perhaps the art museum thought that pointing out the obvious and horrible would lessen the anti-NK impact of their show.

OTOH, there are some awfully irony-blind people out there who might believe the propaganda. Deadpan is an awfully flattering approach to their audience, which is probably as full of idiots and the ignorant as any other.