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Among diamonds, Hermes offers inspiring rubbish

Jan 23,2007
“Das Narrenschiff” by Bae Young-whan
“Too Early or Too Late Atelier” by Lim Min-ouk Provided by Hermes Korea
An abandoned refrigerator? A ragged rug with holes? Piles of dirty veneer wood? What has happened to Maison de Hermes ― where fashion is offered to those who can afford to dress like a million dollars?

Rubbing up against Hermes luxury are three Korean artists who aspire to win the annual Hermes Missulsang. While the brand new store, which opened last November in Sinsa-dong, is stocked with all things Hermes ― from wine openers to equestrian gear to crocodile Birkin bags, Atelier Hermes, a 420 square-meter exhibit hall located on the third floor, is dedicated to supporting the creative passion of contemporary artists.
Although the French brand remains conservative with regard to its heritage and design, Hermes is surprisingly liberal when it comes to the arts.
The exhibition opened last Friday. Visitors to the Hermes store pass cashmere coats and diamond rings on the store’s first and second floors to be greeted with a stark contrast ― ugly, discarded objects they might find in the city’s junk yard.

The 2006 Hermes Missulsang, the seventh such award, was delayed until this year because of the opening of the Korean flagship store. Previously, Hermes Korea organized a special event to announce the nominees and the winner at an art gallery. Over the years Hermes Missulsang has contributed to Korean art, supporting noted young artists. Winners from the past include Chang Young-hae (2000), Bahc Yiso (2002), Suh Do-ho (2003) and Koo Jeong-a (2005), each of whom now has an international reputation. This year, the three nominees are Bae Young-whan, Lim Min-ouk and Kim Sang-il. Each received 10 million won (about $10,000).
Bae’s installation, titled “Das Narrenschiff” (“The Ship of Fools”), consists of broken veneer wooden panels, measuring sticks and broken glass. The fragments of glass bottles, depicting musical notes and constellations, are glued onto wooden panels mounted on the wall. And the broken shards of wood on the floor create a strange sense of peace and harmony.

Inspired by the French philosopher Michel Foucault’s book, “The History of Madness,” the artist, a graduate of Hongik University, created imaginary “ships” out of wooden planks and sticks bearing scales and numbers. Mr. Bae said some are actual measuring sticks and others are marked by the artist himself. “We live in a world where people are ostracized because they don’t ‘measure up’ to standards set by society and some of its members who think they are superior,” he said. “In the old days, in Europe, people who thought to be mad were put into a ship and sent to sea. Symbolically speaking, that still hasn’t changed.”
The artist turned the spacious Atelier Hermes into a vast sea of vessels. It shows that human values are immeasurably beautiful when they are left alone in nature.
The Korean photographer Kim Sang-il, 33, displays his new photographs, titled “Mode.” They show urban buildings and skyscrapers. His large-scale photographs depict the superficiality of the buildings. By his account, these urban images are nothing but “scanned objects” not “reproductions of reality.”
Like Mr. Bae, the artist Lim Min-ouk employs various scrap materials ― a discarded refrigerator, fabric swatches, a latex mat, etc. ― to express the banal life of contemporary citizens like herself.
Through the five-piece installation, titled “Too Early or Too Late Atelier,” the artist said she wishes to “show the ordinariness of her being that continues to exist, rather than to impress critics in the name of ‘contemporary Korean art.’” There’s a short film that shows comically mismatched scenes of a local printer along with a clip from the 1974 film, “Young Frankenstein” and the show tune, “Puttin’ On The Ritz.” Her mission is to discriminate between the internal nature and the surface reality of contemporary everyday life. But showing her scrap metal comprised works at Hermes inspired her too. “Isn’t the song ‘Puttin’ On The Ritz’ perfect for Hermes?” Lim said.
On March 7, the deliberation committee for 2006 Hermes Korea Missulsang will announce the winner, who will receive an additional 20 million won cash prize.

By Ines Cho Staff Writer [inescho@joongang.co.kr]