The architecture frames a dialogue between traditional Korean art and contemporary international superstars
The Independent once wrote about Tadao Ando’s work “If there’s one man responsible for making concrete sexy again, it’s this guy” – I couldn’t agree more. Strolling around Bonte Museum means entering the architectural dialogue between nature, concrete, water and light – all elements that are so characteristic of Ando’s work. The museum is composed of two buildings – a triangular prism and a geometrical cube – which together create this architectural environment that easily harmonises with the surrounding landscape.
Bonte museum is composed of five galleries and a sculpture garden. The sculpture garden welcomes us once we approach the entrance, with a large scale Jaume Plensa‘s signature artwork “Crouching human”. Likewise, on the rooftop of the second building, Robert Indiana’s “Love” sculpture accompanies the sight of the Island landscape.
Diving into the museum’s collection, we can notice easily the willingness of creating a dialogue between the traditional and the contemporary, between national treasures and international masterpieces.
Among the 5 galleries, three of them exhibit Bonte museum’s collection of artefacts of the Joseon Dynasty, creating a curatorial path that narrates of Korean beauty and traditional culture, with the goal of showcasing the “diverse beauty embodied in Korean cultural heritage” – as we read in the museum website. Peculiar is the exhibition design of the area that exhibits Korea’s traditional crafts, where the different objects are harmonically exhibited in a glass-framed complex that dialogues majestically with the architectural frame. This harmonic dialogue between materials and exhibition design is nonetheless peculiar of that Asian minimal and harmonic taste well known by Tadao Ando.
This first anthropological journey across traditional Korean craftmanship continues through another exhibition space, which offers us a view on “the Aesthetic of Flower Sangyeo and Kkokdu”. Sangyeo is a traditional funeral bier which is used to celebrate the rite of passage in Korean tradition and Confucian values. The space showcases both a traditional funeral bier together with a set of statues and ornamental elements that were used according to one’s wealth, class, social status …it is an interesting element that helps us exploring the heritage and tradition of the past, reinforcing that concept of vibrancy in diversity when it comes to understanding the “other” in anthropological and cultural terms.
Fast-forward to the galleries that exhibit contemporary art, we cannot find ourselves not captured by the work of Yayoi Kusama – whose art practice aims to discuss the “creation and obliteration of human existence” – and whose signature work Pumpkin dialogues with us while we await for our turn to enter her infamous “Infinity mirrored room”. The two artworks of the Japanese art superstar lead us to the experience of Gallery 2, which presents a collection of Western art, from avant-guarde to contemporary – with artworks of Frank Stella, Fernando Botero, Salvador Dali and Nam June Paik among others.
The art journey among the five galleries splendidly reflects the museum’s vision: “bonte” in Korean means “original form”, thus willing to reflect on that archetypal beauty through an ensemble of exhibitions that help us finding a dialogue between past and future, between Korea and the World.
As part of the global community, and having had the chance of visiting the museum, I find myself reflecting on the meaning of curating an art museum in the current contemporary landscape. Which orientation to give? What curatorial approach to follow? Which vision – thus message – to convey? Bonte museums offers me important elements of reflection on the concept of Dialogue – which I personally understand as an invitation for an open conversation on past and present, on the “us” and “them” in cultural diversity, of tradition and contemporary, on nature and architecture.
Confucian Ideas seek us to harmonise yet to not achieve sameness – maintaining contrasting elements through creative tension. Nowadays – in our contemporary reality – we are trying to understand how to improve the dialogue between differences, whether this be in the latest political facts on the ultimate curatorial practice. Perhaps what Asia can teach us from its most traditional values is that concept of harmony in diversity.
I bring this visit and reflection to you as the start of an ongoing dialogue that I am willing to carry between Est and West within the contemporary cultural practices, with the aim of offering a starting terrain for constructive discussions and further understanding.