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The news overshadowed the announcement of Nicolas Bourriaud as the event's next artistic director.

Gwangju Biennale Cancels Park Seo-Bo Prize After Protests

Park Seo Bo. Courtesy Johyun Gallery.

On the same day Gwangju Biennale announced the appointment of Nicolas Bourriaud as artistic director for the milestone 15th edition, they said the new Park Seo-Bo Prize will be 'discontinued'.

Despite having secured funding through 2042, the Gwangju Biennale Park Seo-Bo Prize was awarded just once before being terminated after protestors at the Biennale denounced it for going against the 'Gwangju spirit'.

The Gwangju Biennale was established in 1995 to commemorate the 1980 Gwangju Uprising against the military regime of Chun Doo-hwan, which was met with the massacre of hundreds of civilians.

The group objected to the biennale naming the prize after Park Seo-Bo, who they accused of being silent during decades of oppressive military rule as he painted minimalist, abstract art.

'He was a thoroughly aesthetic modernist artist who lived for personal glory,' one of the protestors' pamphlets claimed, before listing official endorsements the artist received under authoritarian leaders.

Park Seo-bo, 91, took to Instagram after the cancellation of the prize, describing the Gwangju Biennale as 'out of control' and expressing consternation that the issues were not raised well before the prize was announced in February last year.

'There was plenty of time for a confluence of opinion,' he said. 'If there were a lot of disagreements, they would have found a different solution.'

In April, Chungju-born artist Oum Jeongsoon became the first and last recipient of the US $100,000 prize. Gwangju Biennale announced they would return the remainder of the $1 million prize fund to Park's GIZI Foundation.

'Following the discontinuation of the award, the Gwangju Biennale Foundation plans to seek opinions from different communities to establish a more progressive award system', Gwangju Biennale said.

Bourriaud, whose writings on relational aesthetics positioned artists as catalysts for social change, will undoubtedly have to contend with this political rift in Korean art circles in his new role.

'The Gwangju Biennale will always reinvent itself, and I am aware of the high stakes generated by its 30th anniversary,' Bourriaud said in a statement, prior to the cancellation of the Park Seo-Bo Prize.

Bourriaud's previous roles include co-director of the Palais de Toyko in Paris from 1999 to 2006, and lead curator of the 2009 Tate Triennial, the 2014 Taipei Biennale, and the 2019 Istanbul Biennale.

The theme of the 15th Gwangju Biennale in 2024 will focus on our relation to space, Bourriaud said.

Park Yang-woo, the president of the Gwangju Biennale Foundation, said the 15th Gwangju Biennale 'will focus on its essence of fostering meaningful discourse.' —[O]

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