Critics’ Picks

Kim Song Gun, Hae Kumgang (Diamond Mountains at the Sea), 2010, oil on canvas, 65 x 100”.

Kim Song Gun, Hae Kumgang (Diamond Mountains at the Sea), 2010, oil on canvas, 65 x 100”.


“Mansudae: Landscapes from Pyongyang”

galerie son
Schinkelplatz 4
August 25–September 29, 2012

Soldiers steadfastly guard the entrance to the Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s largest and most important center of artistic production. The studio boasts four thousand employees, of whom approximately one thousand are artists and craftspeople. It is here where the famed bronze memorial statues of Kim Il Sung are made along with, in recent months, those of Kim Jong Il, whose deification throughout the country has been underway since his death last December. Foreign visitors to Mansudae are forbidden to enter those parts of the studio where the sacred likenesses are forged, though the department of oil painting, where artists work in the more innocuous landscape genre, is open.

While all art in the DPRK ultimately serves the primary purpose of domestic propaganda, the oils, watercolors, and woodcuts chosen for Galerie Son’s current exhibition give viewers insight into how the country would like to be viewed from the outside. Night in Pyongyang, 2012, Kim Myong Un’s vision of the nocturnal capital, aims for idealization rather than realism; utilizing a bright palette, Kim renders a city abuzz with traffic and blinking lights that are reflected in the swirls of the Taedong River. We see a glowing cosmopolitan city Pyongyang might be someday but isn’t quite yet. The green of the dramatically high waves beating against the rocky cliffs seems to glow in Kim Song Gun’s Hae Kumgang (Diamond Mountains at the Sea), 2010. The painting depicts a blunt and beloved visual symbol in this country that views itself as both a great military power and an ideological paradise: No matter how hard enemy forces may strike, these works imply that the eternal fatherland will forever remain standing, solid, tough, and unforgiving as the mountains that form its core.