A view of the 2017 ART021 fair in Shanghai from the outside. Photo: Galerie Perrotin.

Chinese Ban on South Korean Cultural Exports Is Lifted

After South Korea and the US agreed to install an American antimissile system in Seongju County in 2016—a response to North Korea’s multiple threats of nuclear attack—the Chinese government instituted an “unofficial” ban on all Korean cultural exports, including art, pop music, and television soap operas, Lisa Movius and Melanie Gerlis write in the Art Newspaper. China felt South Korea’s move would imperil its own security. Now, the two countries have managed to settle the argument after a series of diplomatic talks on October 31. The ban lasted almost a year.

At the West Bund and ART021 art fairs in Shanghai last month, the only Korean artists exhibited were with Arario, a Korean gallery with an outpost in Shanghai. Kukje Gallery in Seoul only showed its Western artists. International galleries were not allowed to display Korean art. “It is not surprising that exchanges in art are affected by political issues,” said Eun Yong Kwon, a visual arts planner at the Korean Arts Management Service in Seoul. “Diplomacy and politics are always stronger than art and culture. What was surprising was that, this time, the ban and embargo were so strong and visible.” An art dealer who spoke to the Art Newspaper on the condition of anonymity said that he was told to remove the Korean names from his application for the ART021 fair. And a new private museum that had scheduled an exhibition of Korean-American artist Nam June Paik had postponed its inaugural May opening.

No one from the Chinese art community wanted to go on record about the ban. Suppression in China does not typically occur via direct mandate, often instead spreading through self-censorship and rumor. As a result, it can be hard to assess what exactly is happening. “It’s difficult for people to know [what’s going on] because on a Tuesday, the Chinese government could have a problem with Korea, then on Wednesday decide everything is fine,” said a specialist on the Chinese market.