South Korea’s just-opened Gwangju Biennale, arguably Asia’s top art festival, has awarded its first $100,000 prize to the Seoul-based artist Oum Jeongsoon.
The prize, officially titled the Park Seo-bo Award, after the famed painter whose foundation endowed it, went to Oum for Elephant without Trunk (2023), a new work that furthered the artist’s prior pieces about the history of these titular animals.
Previously, Oum followed the journey of one elephant species that had come to Korea six centuries ago from Indonesia. Ultimately, that species ended up in exile on the island of Jangdo.
Part of the project from the Gwangju Biennale entailed staging performances with visually impaired students who lived in places where this elephant once visited. The installation also include sculptural elements resembling elephants devoid of their trunks.
“By presenting the senses in an enlarged form shaped like elephants, it offers a diverse and novel perspective on how we interpret the tactile world,” a description notes.
Frances Morris, the outgoing director of London’s Tate Modern and a member of the jury that oversaw the prize, said in a statement, “No one can see properly, no one can see the whole. We can only see part of the world. The pandemic has forced us to do a lot of things online. The artist sends a powerful message for the biennial in the post-pandemic era.”
This year’s Gwangju Biennale was curated by Tate Modern senior curator Sook Kyung-Lee and features a starry array of participants that includes Candice Lin, Guadalupe Maravilla, Aliza Nisenbaum, Sopheap Pich, Vivian Suter, and more.
The biennial’s new award marks a big bid to raise the show’s profile. That it comes with a purse at all is significant. The Venice Biennale’s Golden Lion award, for example, does not come with a monetary reward.