Leon Battista Alberti of the Italian Renaissance

I recently finished reading one of my course textbooks for the Modern Western Art Seminar course I am enrolled in at the Korea National University of the Arts. The book is titled Leon Battista Albert: Master Builder of the Italian Renaissance and it is written by Anthony Grafton. Leon Battista Alberti was a scholar of art, an architectural theorist and practitioner and worked as a literary editor for the Catholic Church who lived in fifteenth century Italy. He had also written a couple of works of fiction, one of which used Greek gods as its main characters. Alberti was the author of On Painting, which was one of the first scholarly documents to discuss perspective, and of On the Art of Building, in which he expressed high regard from classical architecture. As an architectural theorist, Alberti believed in classical ornamentation and “proportion,” making economic use of the existing built environment and, apparently, “winding roads” as apposed to straight ones. Albert believed that winding roads were more proper for giving the travelor just the right amount of visual intake of any attractive scenery until they reached a marvelous piazza to take their breaths away. The Forbidden Palace in Beijing may have achieved the same aim by installing gates along the path to the Emperor’s quarters so as to keep the truely majestic out of view until reached. In his later years Alberti has also worked as an architectural consultant and a number of buildings were attributed to his designing. Who were the figures that practiced architectural designing their entire lives during Alberti’s time remain tightly veiled at this point in my academic endeavors.

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Class Field Trip to Incheon and Song-do (heavy on contemporary architecture)

Song-do is an island in the city of Incheon, just outside of Seoul. It is like Dubai in that the entire island is covered with brand-new architecture that is mostly uninhabited but that the architecture nonetheless is cutting edge.

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On “Art and Objecthood” by Michael Fried

Korea National University of [the] Arts, Western Contemporary Art Criticism course (graduate)

Dec. 6, 2012

Han Lee

Michael Fried is an art historian and critic best known for his essay, “Art and Objecthood” first published in 1967 in Artforum. He was educated at Princeton, Oxford and Harvard and taught at Harvard and Johns Hopkins University. In “Art and Objecthood,” Fried is known to have “attacked minimalism as being primarily “theatrical,” i.e., relying on what he considered necessity of being viewed, of pandering to an audience reaction (Gewen), i.e., a theater relationship, for its success.”[1] According to Gaebler.com, Artforum has an “approximate” readership of 31,000[2] and according to E-Flux.com, “it is one of the most widely read and distributed publications in its field.”[3] The reason Fried has written this essay seems to have been to define a quaint new movement at the time in minimalism and, according to the author’s own words, “the desire to distinguish between what is to [Fried] the authentic art of [the time of his writing] and other work which, whatever the dedication, passion, and intelligence of its creators, [seemed to the author] to share certain characteristics associated here with the concepts of literalism and theater has largely motivated what [he has] written.”[4] In other words, Fried questions the artistic merit of literalist works, casting them as lacking distinguishing features from “non-art.” Fried’s “efforts to check Minimalism were ignored” by the community of art critics upon publication of “Art and Objecthood,” according to DictionaryofArtHistorians.org.


In “Art and Objecthood” Fried is primarily concerned with how minimalist art ‘projects and hypostatizes objecthood’ in a way which makes the latter “antithetical to art,” or, in other words, Fried argues that minimalist art is theatrical because it requires an audience to be for its existence as art to be validated, and therefore is impure and certainly discreditable as art. Regarding this theatricality of minimalists, Fried states the following which explains how minimalist art shares with theatre the quality of, in terms of visual representation, having only a bare essential setup to include all the physical markers required, and no more, to denote a play or a work of art, leaving the bulk and rest to imagination and make-believe, or interpretation, in a loaded sense. Fried’s use of the expression, “acting accordingly” implies the viewer of a minimalist work of art is led to acknowledge what they are seeing as art, although there is nothing in the piece for them to read or observe beyond its superficial presence. Fried reinforces his comparison between minimalist art and theatre by suggesting that minimalist art is covertly anthropomorphic[5], as in a play where it ultimately depends on the audience’s imagination to bring to life the characters each actor is in the role of.


Furthermore, the presence of literalist art, which Greenberg was the first to analyze, is basically a theatrical effect or quality- a kind of stage presence. It is a function not just of the obtrusiveness and, often, even aggressiveness of literalist work, but of the special complicity that that work extorts from the beholder. Something is said to have presence when it demands that the beholder take it into account, that he take it seriously- and when the fulfillment of that demand consists simply in being award of the work and, so to speak, in acting accordingly.[6]


Fried argues that the aforementioned theatricality of minimalist art is antithetical to art primarily because, he believes, the essence of modernist art is to “deny or suspend its objecthood” long enough express ideas and sensibilities through the very “interesting incidents” of form which physically and conceptually distinguish art alone from all other objects in the world. Known as a closely-associated student of Clement Greenberg,[7] Fried advocates formal expressionist artists such as David Smith and Anthony Caro, and introduces a quote from Smith to suggest minimalist sculpture would hardly be considered art outside a white cube setting.[8] Fried introduces a brief history of how modernist painting incidentally began to resemble objects (presumably by their painting for painting’s own sake ethos), how this almost spun out of hand to the extent of suggesting the entire history of painting has likely always been heading toward objecthood, and how modernist painters had to fight this phenomenon through more intense painterly expressions. Fried also claims that minimalism arose from the same conditions, except the proponents of minimalism were “already corrupted… by theatre,” something which modernist painting had strived to avoid all along, something which is dangerous for expressing a presumptive ignoring of modernist art entirely, but the mode of which is… as explicitly stated by Fried, so pervasive as to render us “all literalists [(minimalists)] most or all of our lives.”


Michael Fried’s position appears to be in direct contradiction to Roland Barthes in “The Death of the Author,” if Barthes’ idea of the ideal author, a minimalist invoking a picture of the typical minimalist artist, were indeed transferrable to artists, as well as to Jacques Ranciere in The Emancipated Spectator, where Ranciere espouses the idea of theatre’s audiences being actually more empowered than critical discourse widely acknowledges. While the all of the aforementioned concepts of Fried are for the most part well-communicated and appear to be logically valid, the general content of the author’s arguments lacks hard facts to be sufficiently convincing as an appeal to the reason of the critical community against minimalism. It is a good example of a definition-centered, comparative analysis between two modes of art-making, though, and could be used to inform other research attempting to compare two distinct concepts in art.


Fried ultimately appears to be arguing that minimal art fails in the area of artistic value in the process of creating a work of art, in a round-about way of arguing the difference between anything which is hand-made versus their mass-produced versions, because Fried’s major distinguishing quality of theatre and minimalist art are their requirement of an audience, i.e. an assumption that theatre and minimalist art must be seen by an audience to become completed works of art whereas a movie or representational or expressionistic art may sit and collect dust upon completion without anyone viewing them and still have value because their process of creation involved sufficient artistic intervention by the artist. This may be debatable by today’s cultural standards, and evidently it already was at Fried’s time of writing “Art and Objecthood,” while perhaps objectionable to today’s values of professionalism in the arts. Taken how Fried was also known to have been relatively close friends with formal expressionist artists such as Smith and Caro,[9] “Art and Objecthood” seems likely to have been a friend’s emotion-involved advocacy of artists who have, imaginably, worked too hard to have their share of recognition be shared with, or even perhaps eclipsed by, those who curiously enough refuse to show any signs of intellectual struggles in their works- those ‘perverts.’[10]

[4] Fried, Michael, “Art and Objecthood,” Art and Objecthood, University of Chicago Press, pp. 167-168.

[5] “I am suggesting, then, that a kind of latent or hidden naturalism, indeed anthropomorphism, lies at the core of literalist theory and practice…. what is wrong with literalist work is not that it is anthropomorphic, but that the meaning and, equally, the hiddenness of its anthropomorphism are incurably theatrical.” Fried, Ibid., p.157.

[6] Fried, Ibid., p. 155.

[7] Dictionary of Art Historians, Ibid.

[8] “What not put the work outdoors and further change the terms?…” Fried, Ibid., pp. 159-160.

[9] Dictionary of Art Historians, Ibid.

[10] “…perverted by theatre….” Fried, Ibid., p. 161, p. 168.

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Social Influences on Malaysian Artist Tan Chin Kuan

I had an assignment in my Contemporary Asian Art Seminar class. Each student blind-picked a work of art mentioned in our textbook Modern Asian Art, by John Clark, and was to do some research on it. I had drawn Nightmare of the ’90s by Tan Chin Kuan. It did not come up in my internet search, but I did research on the background of the piece on which Clark’s argument was based. The following is my two-page essay on it.

Cultural Idiosyncrasies in the Militarism-Art Relationship: An Example of Artist Tan Chin Kuan’s Malaysia in 1990.

According to Chapter 11, Cycles of Integration and Autonomy, in Modern Asian Art by John Clark, in a paragraph on “military” relations between “the local and the international,” Tan Chin Kuan is an artist of Chinese descent working in Malaysia on themes of “apocalyptic anger, either at exclusion as an ethnic Chinese in Malaysia or at the narrowness of modern consumer society… (p. 266).”  Clark refers to Tan Chin Kuan’s 1990 painting titled Nightmare of the ’90s as an example. At first glance, there seems to be no correlation between either “exclusion as an ethnic Chinese in Malaysia” or “the narrowness of modern consumer society” and anything military. However, the aforementioned ethnic “exclusion” may be the contemporary social results of a past war, whether between China and Malaysia or otherwise, in the form of xenophobia toward persons of ethnic descent of a general range of foreign nations, who also embody their ancestral cultures.

Among published opinions that support the connection between war and consumer culture is one which provides historic facts from the United States as a model. According a web page of Mt. Holyoke College titled “History of American Consumerism,” “Throughout WWII advertisers promised products to be available when there was peace. This led to eager customers (consumers) immediately after the war was over…. With the end of the war, consumer optimism and economic growth came with victory.”  This suggests that high consumerism in general may be a byproduct of a past war by associating peace with economic prosperity and a cycle of peace following war with one of a relative burst in consumer spending and manufacturing after a prolonged depression in the area.

In Malaysia, war had taken on a non-conventional meaning in the 1960s when, as reported in Time Magazine on May 23, 1969, a so-called “race war” had erupted between civilians of native Malay ethnicity and those of Chinese descent. These armed conflicts had taken place on multiple occasions in different geographic areas, including both urban and rural sites. Bands of armed civilians on both sides of the conflict had been somehow free from government restrain to cut across space and time with such mobility and linearity, or single-minded unity, of violent action, in other words with such sweeping violent actions going both ways, as described by the Time article:

   Malaysia’s proud experiment in constructing a multiracial society exploded in the streets of Kuala Lumpur last week. Malay mobs, wearing white headbands signifying an alliance with death, and brandishing swords and daggers, surged into Chinese areas in the capital, burning, looting and killing. In retaliation, Chinese, sometimes aided by Indians, armed themselves with pistols and shotguns and struck at Malay kampongs (villages). Huge pillars of smoke rose skyward as houses, shops and autos burned.

   Firemen drew sniper fire as they attempted to douse the flames, and outnumbered police watched helplessly at times as the street gangs rampaged…. 

One could draw fair conclusions from this that Malaysia in 1990 was likely still ethnically volatile enough for ethnic Malays to hold xenophobia toward ethnic Chinese and for Tan Chin Kuan to have felt the lasting effects of the hostilities between cultures in 1969, only roughly twenty years prior to Tan Chin Kuan’s painting of Nightmare of the ’90s. Thus, although we are aware there have been no widely reported major international armed conflicts or invasions involving Malaysia in recent quarter-centuries apart from their possible if not likely involvement as a colony in WWII, there has been “war” of another kind, among civilians with quasi-military swiftness of action, in the nation that has affected the ethnically Chinese Tan Chin Kuan’s “contemporary experience” in Malaysia and may even have helped to further support consumerism as a way to divert the people’s energies away from disaffected, uncivil political confrontations. Further research may involve expert opinions on the correlation between consumerist cultures and political efforts to maintain peace.

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Modern Western Art and Contemporary Asian Art

I had two classes at Korea National University of [the] Arts this week, Modern Western Art Seminar and Contemporary Asian Art Seminar. In the former, taught by Professor Yang Chung-Moo the class discussed Leon Battista Alberti’s relationship with other Renaissance masters and in the latter, taught by Professor Kim Yong-Cheol, Professor Kim lectured on Japanese art of the 20th century, covering dozens of artists including Tsugihara Fujita, Japanese war paintings during WWII, Japanese paintings depicting a certain social “anomie,” as the professor put it, in the fifties and works of the kitai movement, the High-Red-Center, performance pieces, etc. I have a presentation on Chapter 4., regarding neo-traditionalism, of John Clark’s Modern Asian Art.

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Class field trip

I participated in a three-day class field trip to the ruins and museums housing artifacts of the ancient Paekjae kingdom (18 B.C. – 660 A.D.). The of three professors and a mix of some forty undergraduate and graduate students visited the cities of Gongju, Buyeo and Iksan.  An area just south of Seoul was the first capital of the kingdom of Paekjae and was then called Hanseong. The Hanseong Paekjae Museum was our first stop before we visited the other two capitals of Paekje, Gongju and Buyeo and the city of Iksan where the famous Mireuksa stone pagodas, considered to have the first stone pagodas of the Korean peninsula, are located. It was my first visit to Gongju and Buyeo.

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Thesis progress

I have some fort pages of my first draft on some of the particularities of Andy Warhol’s works.

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2nd and 3rd Lectures at Asia Creative Leadership Forum

The second and third lectures of the Asia Creative Leadership Forum took place on March 29th at the Seoul National University Museum of Art auditorium. The speakers were Professors Chu Kyeong-cheol and Pai Cheol-hyun, both professors at Seoul National University. Dr. Chu spoke on the history of the West from his own, fresh perspective (more on it later), and Dr. Pai on world religions (more on it later).

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Opening Lecture at Asia Creative Leadership Forum

I am at the end of my third week of the new school year at Korea National University of Arts in Seoul. So far, I have seen an exhibition of Japanese contemporary art titled “Re: Quest” at the Seoul National University art museum, had dinner with classmates and a professor or professors twice, and have been busy studying for my thesis. I had also participated in a dinner welcoming the incoming class of graduate students in the art theory department.

Today I visited Seoul National University again to attend the opening lecture, by former Minister of Culture and Education Lee Eo-Ryoung, for the Asia Creative Leadership Forum. To begin, Mr. Lee showed the audience a video of a one-year-old baby who is familiar with the touch-screen interface of iPads and tries to press and pinch spots on magazine surfaces as well, saying that this is an aspect of the newest generation which we must learn of. He argued that people must be able to have some profound thoughts in order to really “feel alive,” and a main point of his lecture was that in the East people generally view the world more as a center-less, egalitarian cycle rather than a dichotomous, centered symetry of entities. He used the game of rock, paper, scissors as an example of such a cycle and mentioned how East Asian national flags have circles in them while those of the West consist of linear edges. Meanwhile, he also did visual analyses of Leonardo DaVinci’s The Last Supper and The Three Graces by Raphael in arguing that these Renaissance masters appreciated the concept of an egalitarian cycle of a relationship of positions between people and between ideas. He also touched on the idea that relationships of connection in ideas can be illustrated by the alphabets of HOWXYZ, in which H is a direct connection between two parallel ideas, O a circular one, W a side-by-side joining, X a conjoining at a certain point, Y an addition of two to yield one, and Z a zig-zag connection. Mr. Lee also stressed that technology and medicine should also be about people foremost and that it is important for people in all professions to be able to appreciate the arts to a certain extent.

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Nov. 24, 2012- Field Trip in Seoul

On Nov. 24, my fellow graduate-level students at the art theory department of the Korea National University of [the] Arts and I went on a field trip through some cultural sites in Seoul, including Waryong Mountain, the Whanki Museum and some art galleries in the Seochon neighborhood.

IMG_5847Group photograph (Mr. Simon Terrill, Dr. Chantal Faust, myself, Dr. Cho Insoo positioned in this order from the left, Dr. Lee Minha first row, far right; students from top and then clockwise: Kang Yumi, Chung Taehee, Kim Hyunjung, Kim Yura, Koh Eunjin, Kim Yewon, Lee Eunsoo, Chae Young and Koh Yongsoo).


IMG_1890 Student Kim Yewon reads her discoveries of Wayrong Mountain.


IMG_1914 Student Kim Hyunjung speaks to group about a historic site at Waryong Mountain.

IMG_1916 Student Koh Jongsoo reads to group his findings on the Whanki Museum.

IMG_1918 Artworks on exhibit at the Whanki Museum.

IMG_1920 Entrance to a gallery in Seochon.

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