Gimhongsok, Mr. Kim, 2012, resin, pants, sneakers, 69 5/8 x 49 1/4 x 18 1/8".

Gimhongsok, Mr. Kim, 2012, resin, pants, sneakers, 69 5/8 x 49 1/4 x 18 1/8".


PLATEAU, Samsung Museum of Art

Gimhongsok, Mr. Kim, 2012, resin, pants, sneakers, 69 5/8 x 49 1/4 x 18 1/8".

The Korean artist Gimhongsok garnered a huge amount of attention from the press for his 2008–2009 solo exhibition at the Kukje Gallery in Seoul, and his exposure reached well beyond the arts section. This was largely due to his notorious opening performance, Post-1945, 2008, for which he hired a prostitute to act like an “ordinary” visitor to the gallery, offering a cash prize to anyone who could identify her. His title suggested that the performance was meant as a satirical commentary on the capitalist ethos of postwar Korea, in which all human relations are mediated by monetary exchange.

The project, however, infuriated both feminists and human-rights activists, who picketed the gallery. They claimed that by publicly exposing the woman’s status as a sex worker, Gimhongsok had taken advantage of a socially underprivileged working-class woman in order to promote his reputation as a provocative artist. Gimhongsok waited until the show closed to reveal that the woman was an actress, not a prostitute. In other words, he had employed a performer to impersonate a prostitute impersonating a gallery visitor. We should have guessed—this artist often highlights the fictive narratives surrounding his practices. Still, it seemed to be too late for him to redeem his reputation; in the public eye, he was now an immoral artist who had thoughtlessly exploited a social minority for his own success.

Gimhongsok’s recent solo show “Good Labor Bad Art” was a conceptual extension of the previous project and its negative public reception. At the entrance of the gallery, the audience encountered a man standing against the wall, covered from head to just above his ankle with a quilt: Mr. Kim, 2012. But this work held another surprise: Mr. Kim was actually a mannequin. The artist has said that he originally hired a professional model, Mr. Kim Giman, to be Mr. Kim, but he changed his mind at the last minute, because it seemed “immoral” to force someone to stand throughout the duration of the show. Whether the audience accepted this dubious story or not—giman means “deception” in Korean—Gimhongsok certainly directed their attention to an overlooked kind of artistic labor. Through the installations, paintings, performances, and videos in the exhibition, the artist demonstrated that, rather than creating art objects, contemporary art more often and more crucially involves making contracts with other people: not only performers but engineers, manufacturers, manual laborers, studio assistants, gallerists, and so on, all of whose work is usually completely overwritten by the artist’s claim to authorship.

For the artist, “labor” refers not only to physical effort but to intellectual work, including art criticism. For his performance Good Criticism, Bad Criticism, Strange Criticism, 2013, Gimhongsok hired three art critics—Jinsang Yoo, Hyun- Suk Seo, and Seok Ho Kang—to give a series of public lectures on his painting Mop-121107, 2012. The artist claims that he created this abstract work by hiring two laborers to “mop” a paintstained canvas. Over the course of this performance, the participants’ criticism of Gimhongsok’s “strange or even bad” art activities actually became part of his oeuvre. Extending this investigation of artistic and intellectual labor, the artist employed docents to tell viewers who worked on each piece, how they were hired, how much they were paid, and so on, throughout the run of the show. His deadpan claim is that because he paid all of the hidden workers, he cannot be accused of appropriating their labor or exploiting them for his own success. This underscores the fundamental principle of advanced capitalist society: Money talks. But no, I was not paid by the artist for this review.

Jung-Ah Woo