Blumen für Kim il-Sung (und Kim Jong-il).
The recent death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il has me thinking about one of the most unusual art exhibitions that I've ever seen, a show that I saw in Vienna in August of 2010 called Blumen für Kim il-Sung: Kunst und Architektur aus der Demokratischen Volksrepublik Korea ("Flowers for Kim il-Sung: Art and Architecture from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea"). The exhibition was put on by the Museum für angewandte Kunst, an institution that specializes in "applied arts" like furniture, housewares, and, in this instance, art influenced by politics. Given my interest in the relationship between art and politics, I naturally found the whole thing fascinating.
Billed as the first exhibition of North Korean art in the West, Blumen für Kim il-Sung aimed for political neutrality, though the fact that all of the works on display were lent by the North Korean government implies that Pyongyang exercised strong veto power over the curators' choices. That being said, the works were surprisingly varied: in addition to the expected socialist realist tableaux of happy workers and smiling children, one also found paintings influenced by older Western styles like French Impressionism. Putting style aside, though, all of the people in the paintings were either smilingly cheerful or stoically determined, all the landscapes were pristine and all the cities were vibrant, with no evidence of the grimness of life in a hermit state ruled by a brutal family dynasty.
To make your own judgment on Blumen für Kim il-Sung, take a look at the above video produced by the Museum für angewandte Kunst. For another outsider's view of a strange and reclusive dictator, why not have a gaze at Kim Jong-il Looking at Things, an oddly compelling Tumblr photoblog that has gone viral in recent days. AMDG.