Last week my boyfriend and I went to the Drents Museum in Assen, The Netherlands.
A year ago we went there too for the exhibition The Soviet Myth and this year the museum
managed to do an exhibition about North-Korean paintings: The Kim Utopia.

Without a doubt all paintings present are propaganda. Some were really beautiful and
detailed and others less so. I started wondering: is this art or craftsmanship? Are these artists
comfortable using oils? Do these artists enjoy what they’re doing? Some paintings looked like
they were done fast, a bit sloppy and without much joy. It looked like something that had to
be done without trying to make it more bearable, which is strange to me.
Were some of these people bad painters or would they just rather finish and move on to
more enjoyable work? I don’t know.

It was interesting to compare these paintings with their European counterparts. For instance,
when we take a painting like ‘The Battle of Waterloo’ by Jan Willem Pieneman, 1824
(Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, The Netherlands) we see a lot happening. The main characters
faces are lit up and painted very detailed. The others less so and sometimes left in a sketchy
state which gives the painting depth even when it’s cluttered.

Not so with ‘Death-defying protectors bound by the barrel of a gun’ by Kim Pong-nam (2002).
Again the main characters are very detailed but moving on to the rest of the painting the picture
is done in crude, thick brushstrokes. In itself quit nice but instead of working spacious it’s a
bit messy.

Also ‘The Battle of Waterloo’ depicts a historical event while the North-Korean painting depicts a
battle that never happened and works purely as propaganda: the North-Korean army supporting
their leader no matter what.

Because we went to both Soviet and North-Korean exhibitions it was hard not to compare
the two. In my opinion the Soviet paintings had a look of artists doing their thing in a
communist world but still very much propaganda. Most of the North-Korean art
looked like craftsmenship being used to depict a world that doesn’t exist.

Here are two youtube links (in Dutch) that allow to compare for yourself:
The Soviet Myth
The Kim Utopia