South Korea's Jeju Island: Loveland vs. Art Museum, by Amy
Jeju Island is a popular Korean honeymoon destination rife with quirky attractions, stunning beaches, and breathtaking natural wonders. Perhaps the most newlywed-specific site known the world over is Loveland: a sex-themed sculpture park, shop, and museum. Graduates of Seoul’s Hongik University created the 140 sculptures and other displays, and Loveland also screens sex education films. Since Korean culture is largely conservative—erotic websites are blocked and modest clothes are preferred even in trendy Seoul—Loveland was intended to be instructional, thereby making the quintessential honeymoon much more satisfying.
Immediately adjacent is the Jeju Art Museum, which exhibits contemporary Korean paintings, prints, pottery, and installations, as well as sculptures. The close proximity of the two attractions—one called a theme park and the other an art museum—begs the entirely subjective and ever-elusive question of “what is art?” and what criterion differentiates these Jeju Island neighbors.
Joel and I entered Loveland in the early evening, immediately greeted with a five-foot phallic sculpture and that was just the hors d’oeuvres. For two hours, we ogled and posed with giant replicas of anatomically correct men, women, and almost couples reaching various states of ecstasy in a plethora of clever positions. Notably, every scene was heterosexual with the exception of a few male-dominated threesomes. Some of the sculptures required the participation of visitors, like mechanical couples that made love at the turn of a crank and a pleasure-inducing bicycle designed specifically designed for the female anatomy. The park was hopping: Korean visitors young and old walked around giggling, marveling demurely, and sometimes quickly passing the more risqué scenes.
After Loveland, we walked to the Jeju Art Museum next door. More sculptures greeted us on the front lawn, but these silhouettes were fully clothed. We took our time walking through high-ceilinged galleries with ample wall space, staring into one painting’s beautiful deep blues and attempting to follow choreographed white lights against utter darkness in a large screening room. Later, we enjoyed the view of a rooftop garden where a few female statues stood proudly, including Jeju’s iconic female diver, known as the haenyo. Laughter from the now illuminated Loveland, which seemed to have drawn larger crowds in the interim, floated across the otherwise silent air.
While Loveland cost nine dollars (or nine thousand won!) to enter, the Art Museum only cost one. Even with the fee, Loveland was packed, while no one but the two of us gravitated thirty-some-odd feet to shell out another dollar for contemporary paintings. This price difference suggests an inherent contradiction: if Loveland’s art is considered low-brow and the museum’s high-brow, then shouldn’t the latter out-expense the former? It seemed that even if the museum were free, which it very nearly was, it still wouldn’t draw a fraction of its neighbor’s crowds.
On an island like Jeju—which has nearly 600 thousand residents vs. 10 million tourists in 2013 alone—entertainment arguably outweighs culture. But Loveland isn’t pure entertainment; self-described as “a place where love oriented art and eroticism meet,” the sculptures and other works are innovative in conception and intricate in construction. Does that mean they qualify as art?
This past spring semester, I asked my college students to form their own definitions of art. Expectedly, the range of responses was as diverse as the students themselves, yet one idea bore repeating: basically that art is in the eye of the beholder. I have to agree, and also add that art is ultimately an act of creation, representation, and personal perspective, often with the goal of providing some form of insight. Art defies conventional explanations and ideological restrictions, and certainly needn’t rely on the assumption that an audience will enjoy it, or even get it. As Louis Bourgeois says, “I don’t care about the audience. I’m not working for the audience. The audience is welcome to take what they can.” Yet even the shyest Korean visitor appeared to enjoy their Loveland experience (or at the very least get it), so in that respect the sculptors triumphed.
Perhaps the distinction lies not in the audience response, nor in the sculptors’ talent and skill, but in the content. The Museum’s rooftop garden featured a nude female sculpture with arms bent above her head—not a modest pose by any means. But compared to a woman with back arched, toes curled, and tongue out the former seems downright tame. Images considered to be erotic are rarely if ever dubbed important works of art. From ancient Greece to modern-day, the female nude has been a popular and acceptable art subject; however, a woman enjoying or initiating sex—or a more anatomically detailed nude—alters the context. The sexually overt sculpture still provides insight, but the viewer subjugates its value to kitsch.
The Museum’s nude looked more like the classical art we have long since accepted, and also appeared in a quiet, serious setting already bearing the label art. Loveland, on the other hand, attracts viewers by promising taboo fun. Its sculptures routinely drop jaws and open eyes—a reaction many artists strive for—but only a careful observer will notice their detail, craftsmanship, boldness, and sheer originality. Maybe one day some Loveland sculptures will migrate next door like we did, and then Jeju tourists will begin to accept them as art and not simply as arousing amusement.
words by Amy.
photos by Joel and Amy.