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  • Martha Bordwell and Jung Sook Wendeborn

The Shape of Time: Guide Takeaways and the Power of Our Tours

Two guides share their experiences with the recent special exhibition and what resonated with visitors.


Left Face - 2013 • Heinkuhn Oh (South Korea) Inkjet print Credit: Minneapolis Institute of Art


Even though The Shape of Time: Korean Art After 1989 recently closed, Mia Guides Jung Sook Wendeborn and Martha Bordwell won’t be forgetting how it impacted their visitors — and themselves — anytime soon. Their reflections include universal themes about helping visitors relate to art. Here are their thoughts, in their words.

 

Jung Sook Wendeborn

Adopted Koreans and international students from many different countries — these are the visitors that I remember from my tours the most. They left their birthplaces and found a home in America. The exhibition was overwhelmingly emotional, they told me. While the artwork such as Sunkoo Yuh’s Monument to Parents and Sang-hee Yun’s The Bad Dream of Marriage brought out viewers’ feelings differently on a personal level, they all related to the artwork with empathy and compassion. I felt privileged to see them.


Monument for Parents, 2013 • Sunkoo Yuh

Glazed Porcelain Credit: MinnPost Photo by Sheila Regan


Visitors shared what they knew about Korea, learned what they didn’t know about it, and left with added perspectives about a nation which is smaller than half the size of Minnesota.

 

Martha Bordwell

In 1977, my husband and I adopted a South Korean baby boy. During our son’s childhood, we tried to instill in him respect for his country of birth. We ate Korean food and went to day camps for Korean adoptees. I learned about Korean art (mainly celadon pottery). Our family visited South Korea in 1990. And when our son graduated from college, he traveled to South Korea to teach English. He stayed for six years.

 

I viewed touring The Shape of Time as a chance to instill in our visitors an understanding and respect for contemporary Korean culture and its people. I told my groups that the exhibit is as much about history as about art.  I started my tours by describing Korea’s very painful twentieth century: occupation by Japan from 1910 to 1945; after World War II, division into two countries a decision made by the United States and the Soviet Union with no input from the Koreans themselves; the Korean War; the mass starvation following that war (that had a role in so many children being sent abroad for adoption); ruling by a military dictatorship until mass protests finally resulted in democracy in 1988. And despite all of this, South Korea today is an economic and cultural powerhouse.


I gravitated to pieces in the show that told stories, stories that melded history, art, and culture. Shortly before he visited Korea for the first time in 25 years, Sunkoo Yuh’s parents died. His Monument to Parents, a vibrantly glazed ceramic tower crowded with fanciful animals, plants and humans, greeted our visitors. Minouk Lim’s Portable Keepers presented a group of walking sticks originally collected by the survivor of a military massacre in 1949, chosen to remember those who died. Lim embellished these canes, which had been entrusted to her, with objects emblematic of life and hung them from the ceiling so that they create ethereal, moving shadows.

Portable Keepers, 2022 • Minouk Lim Staffs carved by Chai Eui Jin (1937-2016) with readymade and found objects Photo: Courtesy of Philadelpia Museum of Art

 

In Kun Al Hun’s What You See is Unseen, the artist designed templates which were illegally smuggled into North Korea. Anonymous craftspeople embroidered the pieces, which were then sent back to the artist. Do Ho Suh’s sculpture Someone, which is in Mia’s collection, resembles an emperor’s robe, created from dog tags manufactured specifically for this piece. When studying at the Rhode Island School of Design, he was assigned to create a piece of clothing which represented an aspect of his identity. His experience serving in the military, mandatory for all South Korean men, informed this work.

What You See is Unseen, 2015-2016 • Kun Al Hun (North Korea) Hand embroidery, silk threads on cotton Credit: Minneapolis Institute of Art

 

About midway through the exhibition run, I gave a tour of The Shape of Time for my son and a group of his friends. As we moved from piece to piece, I pointed out the number of works created by women, despite South Korea’s long adherence to Confucianism and patriarchy. I extolled the originality and artistic brilliance of this group of artists, who are roughly the same age as my son. They might have been his peers if he had grown up in Korea. My son was mostly quiet, as is his nature, but his friends told me how much they had learned from the exhibit. I learned a lot too. This exhibit, and this specific tour, is one I will be thinking about for a long time.

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