Park Sohyun

The #SexualViolence_in_ArtWorld Movement and the Challenge of Art History: Rebooting Feminist Art History in the #MeToo Era

I. Introduction: The #MeToo Movement and Art History

People might feel unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the combination of the terms “#MeToo movement” and “art history.” But for some, this combination of words represents something that is sealed with pain and silence. As of September 2019, there were 31,300,000 search results that featured these combined words on Google alone. Even if we do not necessarily consider this overwhelming number a reflection of reality, the term “#MeToo era” has already emerged as a neologism defining our time on the Internet, and discussions related to the period and art history have continued to draw our attention. These discussions are mainly critical readings of the ways women have been represented in Western art history or have been designed to evoke the history of feminist art. In other words, the #MeToo movement serves as an opportunity to call for and stimulate feminist art history again.

However, in the meantime, an art historian published an article highlighting the fact that there “is no #MeToo movement in the art history field, no push for equality and recognition of sexual harassment and assault on a grand scale” within an online edition of a U.S. newspaper.1 This article, relative to the wider social and cultural circumstances, critically examines the absence of the #MeToo movement within the academic field of art history and then shifts to criticize the attitude of art historians. The author argues that art history as a field is not free from sexual harassment, sexual violence, and gender discrimination, just like the other fields where the voices of #MeToo have erupted. This is because the absence of the #MeToo movement does not mean that sexual violence did not occur within the field or that gender prejudice has not been experienced by its members.

Then, how should art history as an academic discipline or art historians respond to the #MeToo movement? Is it still possible to maintain the traditional responsibilities of art history while overlooking sexual violence and gender discrimination in the art scene or academia? Considering that art history in South Korea has been led by a number of women researchers and students, should we not re-approach the academic structure and conditions with a more active awareness of art historians as gendered subjects? In addition, if the “#MeToo Movement Era” phrase indicates that terminating sexual violence and gender discrimination has become the main goal and calling of our time, what kinds of art history should exist in response to this newly defined era? The recent discussion demonstrates that the issue of sexual violence and gender discrimination within the academic field cannot be separated from the way the discipline exists. Therefore, the #MeToo movement becomes a pivotal opportunity to reflect on the structure, operation, and system of the academic field of art history as well as the conditions of the reproduction of the discipline.

According to studies of the #MeToo movement, the #SexualViolence_in_[Field] hashtag movement on social media appeared in 2016 around the cultural sector and art world and widely spread to the public in South Korea in 2018 when prosecutor Seo Jihyun bravely revealed her experience of sexual harassment working in the legal community on the JTBC news.2 Since then, the #MeToo movement is still an on-going issue with strong public support in South Korea. According to “A Survey on Social Change after the #MeToo Movement” conducted by the Korean Women’s Development Institute in March 2019, 80.7% of Korean women and 60.7% of Korean men supported the #MeToo Movement, while 85.9% of women and 68% of men said that gender sensitivity was necessary during the trials for sexual harassment and sexual violence cases (Table 1). Based on this survey, the report offers that the social understanding that sexual harassment and sexual violence are “social structural problems based on power” is widely accepted by South Koreans because of the #MeToo movement.3

     Table 1: Percentage of people supporting the #MeToo movement (by gender and age group)
Source: “A Survey on Social Change after the #MeToo Movement,” KWDI Brief 51, March 28, 2019, 2. src=
Source: “A Survey on Social Change after the #MeToo Movement,” KWDI Brief 51, March 28, 2019, 2. 

However, it is difficult to conclude that this optimistic analysis fully represents reality. An article entitled “The Reason Why #MeToo in the Art World is Absent . . . Gender Inequality in Education Field Still Remains” was recently published in 2019. As the title implies, this article argues that the separation of the #MeToo movement in the art world from the gender inequality issue in the educational field has led to a misdiagnosis of reality. This article affirms that the art world has been relatively undisturbed by the #MeToo movement because there is “no gender inequality problem” in the art world. Instead, it asserts that the real problem lies in “gender inequality in art education,” where students study prior to entering the art world.4 However, reality tells a different story. Not least as the argument that the South Korean art world is gender equal because there was no movement to publicize power-related sexual violence cases is a hasty inference that is contrary to facts.

#MeToo in the art world spread rapidly from being a hashtag movement, which began with #SexualViolence_in_ArtWorld ignited by another hashtag movement #SexualViolence_in_Otaku [Mania] as a part of the #SexualViolence_in_[Field] hashtag movement in 2016. It continues in diverse forms, not limited by this original format. Even though the #SexualViolence_in_ArtWorld hashtag movement is no longer active, we cannot dismiss #MeToo cases in our art world as non-existent. At the same time, the ongoing #Professor_SexualViolence_in_ArtCollege hashtag movement or the #We’reNineteen hashtag movement (accusing sexual violence against young art students), suggest that #MeToo in the art world is not simply bounded within academia.5 Rather, the #MeToo movement in the art world provocatively challenges our current situation where highly regarded male artists are often professors or lecturers at art colleges, and this power structure readily extends to the private art institutions for art students who prepare for art college entrance exams. The art world and art colleges are closely related by establishing a reciprocal system, as recognition and evaluation in the art world often lead to an art university professor position. This system contributes to the guaranteeing of professional opportunities within which sexual perpetrators can solidify their powerful status. Sexual violence in institutional education becomes possible through “a silent cartel” based on the fear of a victim who is aware of the fact that her current teacher will be her senior and colleague in the art world after graduation, and he, as an influential figure, can control her future career. In this context, a more specific and critical examination is required to properly recognize sexual harassment and sexual violence in the art world as socially structured problems.

It is undeniable that art history as an academic field is an important factor in forming and operating the structure of the art world. In particular, art history plays a key role in the recognition system within the art world and supports the social structure of art through the two axes of research and education. In reality, art history majors or researchers are educators, curators, artists, and students, interacting with each other through a wide range of roles and relationships, such as being viewers, art assistants, art administrators, critics, activists, and gallerists. This implies that many people who majored in art history are also directly or indirectly involved in the #MeToo movement. In this sense, this article begins by emphasizing the need to acknowledge the #MeToo movement as an opportunity to shed light on the existing conditions of the institutional system of art history as well as a contemporary practice that demands critical reflection. By recognizing the necessity of the #MeToo movement, more specifically, this article aims to investigate what kind of academic practice is required in art history. To this end, I will first explore the nature of the #SexualViolence_in_ArtWorld movement as the #MeToo movement, situate the development of the movement in the context of a concept called “Feminism Reboot,” and then examine the following tasks of art history through the trajectory and characteristics of South Korean feminist art history studies. By re-examining the well-known question, “Why have there been no great female artists?” raised by feminist art historian and critic Linda Nochlin, a figure who was frequently quoted in global #MeToo movements, this article attempts to clarify the tasks of art history demanded by the current context of the #MeToo movement.

II. #SexualViolence_in_ArtWorld Movement: The Background and Characteristics of #MeToo Movement in Art World 

1. From “Feminism Reboot” and Politics of Survival

The term “#MeToo movement,” a hashtag social movement that reveals sexual violence and sexual discrimination as well as supporting victims in social media spaces, is known to have been first used by African American human rights activist Tarana Burke in 2006 in making an accusation of sexual abuse and sexual assault. Then in 2017, actress Alyssa Milano posted a message on Twitter and Facebook urging the use of “#MeToo” on social media by any woman who had been sexually harassed when she tried to reveal the sexual violence that had been perpetrated by Hollywood filmmaker Harvey Weinstein for decades. This request quickly spread with the support of many people and opened up the era of the global #MeToo movement. As Kim Bomyung argues, the #MeToo movement enables “the possibility of transnational feminist solidarity based on common identity… as well as the digital connectivity among women,” and, in this respect, the impact of the #MeToo was enormous.7 

However, prior to Hollywood’s #MeToo movement, South Korea had already witnessed several hashtag movements against sexual violence in the culture and art world, including #SexualViolence_in_Otaku, an accusation against web cartoonist Lee Jahye for urging and abetting sexual violence against a minor on October 17, 2016, followed by #SexualViolence_in_LiteratureWorld and #SexualViolence_in_ArtWorld, which quickly proliferated throughout Twitter. Therefore, the #SexualViolence_in_[Field] movement in South Korea was initiated in 2016 before the emergence of the global #MeToo movement. This demonstrates that the domestic movement was not solely provoked by the influence of the global movement or by sudden and arbitrary circumstances. Kim Hyunmee criticizes the perspective that considers the #MeToo movement as a sudden outburst and defines the movement as  “direct political action from the bottom” and an extension of the many small feminist group movements in South Korea that were organized in the aftermath of the Gangnam Station Murder (2016). These include the anti-digital pornography campaigns, a femi-zone project during the Park Geunhye’s presidential impeachment protests, abortion-rights movements, the Hyehwa Station Protest against discrimination of women and spy camera crimes, and for the fair investigation of such.8 Woo Jian, a feminist activist of Femi Dangdang, stated that in this context, “the [public] square [of Gwanghwamun Plaza in the center of Seoul] is portrayed as an open space for all ‘citizens,’ but it was limited to a certain group of people, namely non-disabled, heterosexual, adult men” in a series of protests. She added that the Feminist Reboot has newly interpreted the sense of democracy in the square since the Gangnam Station Murder. Woo’s argument implies that citizenship, which was believed to be naturally given to anyone regardless of their gender, could only be acquired by women through fighting the patriarchal culture, which enacts verbal and physical violence against them in such protest sites.9

Feminism Reboot, referenced by Woo Jian, is a term originally devised by feminist cultural researcher Son Heejung in 2015.10 Kim Bomyung argues that Feminism Reboot “started with resistance to the misogyny prevalent in South Korea’s digital space and pop culture around 2015” and “was expanded to resistance in streets and squares through the Gangnam Station Murder, Black Protest, and Candlelight Vigils.”11 She points out important characteristics of the phenomenon based on the comprehensive spectrum of studies on these protests. 

The main characteristics of Feminism Reboot, suggested by Kim Bomyung, are the following: First, it is a self-sustaining form of feminism that focuses on discourses and practices of everyday problems of the young generation that have not been addressed or resolved in existing women’s studies, feminist theories, or institutional policies. As such, the politics of this new feminism reflects the precarious and disturbing conditions of “the life of young women, who are not free from sex, gender, or sexuality as mechanisms of structural discrimination and violence” while presenting aggressive resistance, such as “mirroring,” often not conforming to existing feminist theory or political correctness. Second, this self-sustaining feminist practice began within digital platforms, not institutionalized places. The #IAmFeminist hashtag campaign, which began in January 2015, received an intensive response by generating 3,600 posts and 26,500 retweets over three years in South Korea. The debates on misogyny at the internet portal DC Inside’s MERS Gallery resulted in the emergence of the Megalia group, which became the essence of the Feminism Reboot. The new digital feminism that appeared during this period was a counterattack against the explosion of misogyny, exclusion, and hatred against women organized by contemporary South Korean young men through the violent objectification of their counterparts. Kim, in this sense, points out that this digital feminism “developed in a way that finds a balance of power within the existing world, not seeking any fundamental structural changes or creation of new communal norms.”12 Third, a memorial protest at Gangnam Station, Black Protest, and the femi-zone project that formed at candlelight vigils served as an opportunity to shed light on women’s rights, such as a right to be safe, a right to reproduce, and a right to participate and speak as a citizen. In particular, a memorial protest at Gangnam Station organized through the network of digital feminism, was based on strong emotional solidarity and the collective activism of voluntary individuals. It also became a trigger to build a common identity of a woman as “a replaceable victim” from the sense of crisis that any woman could have been a victim if she had been there that day. On top of that, a femi-zone was created as a safe space for women and minorities during candlelight vigils because of the way women were treated in public spaces generally. Female participants suffered from leering gazes, remarks, and physical contact, sexually objectifying them rather than treating them as equal citizens. Femi-zone then was “a space that reveals the contradictory reality of women who had to draw boundaries for their own safety within the public realm for democracy and was a way to politicize such contradiction.”13

In this context, the #SexualViolence_in_ArtWorld movement should be situated not only as an associated movement that emerged in the phenomenon of the global #MeToo movement but also as a movement born in the context of the domestic Feminism Reboot around 2015 in South Korea. In particular, it is noteworthy that the common identity of women that penetrated the Feminism Reboot was formed through the sympathy and solidarity of voluntary individuals who perceived themselves as “replaceable victims” in social situations ranging from misogyny to femicide. For this reason, their self-sustaining feminism is driven by the issue of the survival and safety of women. In particular, sexual violence is an exercise of structured power itself that threatens the survival and safety of women within the art world, including those who are members of the Feminism Reboot generation and sexually objectified as young women. It is from this perspective that Park Eunseon of the art collective Listen to the City stated: “The process of women being incorporated into art schools and becoming artists is a cycle of survival.”14

2. Creating a “Young Woman” by Gendered Power/Male Solidarity, its Structure and Violence

On October 21, 2016, in the midst of the aforementioned candlelight vigil, an art college student filed a sexual violence complaint against curator Ham Youngjun of the Ilmin Museum of Art through Evernote, an online note-taking application. Although this accusation was directed at a specific person, the actual content described a behavior typical of any perpetrator. According to her, Ham Youngjun approached a number of young female art college undergraduates (prospective artists) by revealing his status in the art world, attempted to privately meet them for so-called professional advice, and then habitually sexually harassed students with verbal remarks and unwanted physical contact.15 After the initial accusation, additional accusations of his sexual harassment continued to appear, and on October 23, an allegation of sexual violence by Choi Heungchul, a former curator of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, was raised. It was revealed that there was a sexual harassment scandal every time he moved to a different institution, which made people wonder: “How could an exhibition planner with an unethical reputation become a curator of prestigious national and public institutions?”16 The accusations against these two curators were widely reported in various outlets, including on social media,17 and accusations against other male curators, critics, university professors, and artists followed.

Kim Hyunmee emphasized that sexual violence is “not a matter of unwanted sexual contact between men and women, but a matter of sexual power deeply embedded in the workplace and public domain” and defined the #MeToo movement as “a social movement that appealed for a collective response and resolution of power inequality through sharing individualized sexual violence experiences.”18 As such, various critics repeatedly confirmed that sexual violence is not just a “man and woman problem” but concerns the way that sexual power operates in a public relationship at work, therefore, such unequal power relationships are an essential factor of sexual violence.19 Art workers also recognized sexual violence in the art world as something “that revealed an unequal hierarchy within the art community” rather than reflecting a prejudiced idea such as “promiscuous artists.” They interpreted that “the hierarchy formed in the narrow art community where the channels for mainstream exposure are limited,” thus making it easier for predators to exercise power.20

Those who were first accused through #SexualViolence_in_ArtWorld did not differ from the typical pattern of sexual violence. These people revealed the unequal power relationship within the art world, namely between male curators of the prestigious art museum and unknown young women artists (prospective artists or art college students).21 Park Eunseon pointed out that the majority of victims were women in their twenties, who were “early career adults still preparing to become professional artists.” She added, “In many cases, the perpetrators exaggerate their authority to force relationships by taking advantage of those young women who lack experience in exhibition or art market.”22 As Kwon Kim Hyunyoung argues, “Sexual perpetrators in a power relationship typically exercise their influence through promises such as appealing to their own power or guaranteeing a future career to a victim, rather than physical assault or intimidation.”23 Such displays of power led to sexual violence because of the lack of social networks for young women. Kim Soma, the first accuser of sexual violence in the art world, said, “Since there is no network among female artists, it was hard to find dependable female seniors or teachers in the art world to ask for help when sexual violence occurs.”24

Victims perceived the relationship between famous curators and students as an unequal power relationship. The system of authoritative art museums where the perpetrators served, and the social networks formed through such social and professional status were important resources and the foundation of their power. Their sexual violence is particularly problematic in that the authority of the museum or curators is produced as a means of gendered power by blurring the boundary between public and private areas. The power derived from the art system encouraged sexual violence against prospective young female artists. In addition, sexual violence functioned as a mechanism to force “silence” on victims, colleagues, and acquaintances of perpetrators, and even the art system they took advantage of for their benefit. The perception that this institutional silence aided the routinization or spread of sexual violence has led many to define sexual violence in the art world as “sexual violence in a community”25 and to voice self-reflection as a member of the community.26

The more serious problem is that sexual violence and its attendant silence, indifference, and complicity were part of the way the art world and art system have existed and reproduced itself. In particular, as reporter Chang Seoyoun pointed out, “The lack of ethical evaluation in the selection of curators at national and public institutions made us doubt the function of the institution itself,” authoritative art systems were practically indifferent and defenseless to the sexual violence issue.27 In the case of the MMCA, it announced on October 25, “Basically, we are determined not to tolerate problems such as so-called sexual scandals, and we plan to take strict measures in accordance with related regulations after thoroughly checking the facts.”28 However, due to the absence of immediate action, female artists continued to file complaints on the website of the MMCA, and this case ended with the resignation of  the curator in question due to the “public misconduct of an official.”29 The silence within the institution could be challenged only because of the #SexualViolence_in_ArtWorld movement outside the institution. This demonstrates how firmly institutional silence on and indifference to sexual violence have been established.

Above all, prevalent sexual violence and its accompanying silence and indifference are the way the art world has operated and reproduced itself structurally. In fact, a series of accusations from the #SexualViolence_in_ArtWorld movement included the experiences of female curators being sexually harassed by gallery representatives or artists. For example, they were “forced to participate in all kinds of drinking parties with privileged men in the art community” and were “exposed to stories about countless sexual deviations they committed, and being asked about my personal experience without any regard [for their feelings or trauma].”30 In addition, there are sexual harassment cases of male critics, curators, and artists regarded as exemplary of so-called “minor” power, which makes people doubt whether it is “real” power.31 These examples, which seem to deviate from typical cases, suggest that unequal gender power relationships within the art world do not only happen in typical hierarchal relationships, such as curators-artists or professors-students. At the same time, it suggests that even those who are not physically young women can be treated like “young women” at any time.

Susan Brownmiller asserts that rape is “nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.”32 In addition, she analyzes prison rape in an authoritarian environment where everyone is male; roles are set differently depending on differences in power, and young and weak male inmates are forced to play the role imposed on women, namely “making women.” In other words, the existence of male bonding, which creates and maintains a hierarchy of power by artificially creating “women,” even in the absence of women, reminds us that power is already gendered. The voices that erupted through the hashtag movement reaffirmed that cultural communities are a typical area of male networking in South Korea. The art world as a place for male bonding cannot be free from charges that such gender-based power has created and maintained a hierarchical power structure or unequal power relationships within the world, regardless of the subjects, among men, women, sexual minorities, curators, artists, or professors.

As Michel Foucault showed in Discipline and Punishment, the spectacle of power is visualized not through the manifestation of a man in power but through the body of the object upon which power is exercised.33 It was through the victim’s statement that the unequal power relationship in the art world was revealed. The perpetrators approached young women who were at art college or on the periphery of the art scene, struggling to become professional artists by using art as an excuse, and continued these relationships through fear of the victim’s survival in the art world. The threat of survival pressured the victim even after the accusation.34 This process demonstrates how closely the survival of an artist is related to that of a young woman, therefore, how the threat of survival for a young woman is inseparable from the threat of survival for an artist. In this situation, the best safety net that a victim can trust is empathy and solidarity with other victims. 
I finally realized that what happened to me was sexual violence and gaslighting a few months later. Only because there was another sexual harassment victim there. She made me realize that I was not alone and that there were countless victims. I recently heard that A still sent Facebook messages to female undergraduate art students and attempted to meet them to talk about their work. I heard about a certain number of victims, but I doubt that they are the only ones. 
Even now, I’m so afraid to share my story and make this case public. Because I am still an undergraduate and I want to continue to work in art. Maybe I am the only one who risks losing everything by publicizing this case. However, I open my mouth because I think if I keep my mouth shut, there will be more victims, and more women will have a hard time not being able to talk about their experiences. 
Looking at the sexual harassment cases posted through the hashtags for several days, I felt more pressure to reveal the truth, as well as panic and fear about my future, than true courage. But I do not believe my career as an artist will end here. . . I think A may be reading this, too. . . I do not want legal punishment on you, nor do I want your life to fall apart completely. It is a warning for you to stop sexual harassment because many others, including myself, are watching you now. Do not contact me personally. If you want to apologize, please make it official. I do not want to fear your power anymore. 
And thank you all who read my rambling, and I would like to support all of the victims. I support your courage and will always be in solidarity. I believe a lot of women must have had a hard time in the cultural world. If you are still suffering, you do not have to talk about it. I just want you to be inspired by my courage.35

The #SexualViolence_in_ArtWorld movement has extended the digital feminism hashtag movement since 2015. The common identity of “women” and the politics of survival was formed on the perception of “replaceable victims.” And this collective consciousness opposed the creation of “young women” by male bonding, revealing structured inequality and gendered power in the art world. Furthermore, as awareness of the limitations of the hashtag movement #SexualViolence_in_ArtWorld on social media has been raised, survival ethics and solidarity have spawned new art groups such as the Association of Women Artists (AWA), Pussytel, Female Designer Policy Research Group WOO, Network for Vigilante Sexual Violence in Photography Troupe, and Female Director Group Gathering A.36 In 2017, these groups, together with other new women’s art organizations of different genres, formed a solidarity group called the Women's Association of Culture and Arts (WACA) based on the urgent perception that they should directly intervene in national policy and institutional changes to solve the structural sexual violence problem within the South Korean art and cultural world. In addition, after the #SexualViolence_in_ArtWorld movement on social media, other hashtag movements such as #Professor_SexualViolence_in_ArtCollege continues until now. 

Then, is it possible for feminist activism, which has emerged from the threat of survival and safety of women artists in the art world and, furthermore, in South Korean society, to be treated justly within Korean art history?

III. Is Feminist Art History without Feminist Art Activism Possible?

In the aftermath of the recent #MeToo movement, feminist art history has been actively resurrected in Western countries. In South Korea, the Coreana Museum of Art has consistently held feminist exhibitions such as Tell Me Her Story (2013), Dancing Mama (2015), The Voice (2017), and Hidden Workers (2018). Exhibitions, such as East Asia Feminism: FANTasia (Seoul Museum of Art, 2015), Asia Women Artists (Jeonbuk Museum of Art, 2017), and Matters of Women (Seoul National University Museum of Art, 2019) seem to reflect the recent surge of Feminism Reboot.  

However, unlike within the art scene, it is difficult to find such movements in art history studies. Feminist art historian Patricia Mathews states that feminist criticism has weakened many of the principles of conservative art history. Therefore, people no longer take popular art history views for granted, including modernist art history limiting its content to visual and aesthetic areas, building a definitive and linear art history model based on the model of persistent father-killing, and claiming Western art as a universal concern.

Meanwhile, she argues that “despite the strong impact of feminisms on the making of new art histories, many art historians. . . do not acknowledge feminist politics and issues either in their teaching or in their scholarship. They act as though the feminist dismantling of power hierarchies did not disturb ‘art history as usual.’ Token feminists, a commonplace occurrence in art departments and art journals, are expected to ‘do’ feminism, as though it were only another ‘method.’”37 She points out the achievements of feminism as well as its limitations and notably deals with the reality in which feminism is treated within the overall art system, including art universities and art magazines. In fact, this treatment of feminism is not unusual in South Korea.

Feminism was introduced to the Korean art world around the mid-to-late 1980s. The 1986 exhibition From Half to Whole of the October Gathering (Siwol moim) is considered a threshold. Kim Hyeonjoo has illustrated that the terms, such as yeoryu misul (women's art), yeoseong misul (art for women's liberation and social revolution),  and yeoseongjuui misul (feminist art) coexisted during this period, creating terminological tension and conflict.38 It is important to consider that this tension and conflict was not only limited to a relationship among these terms but was strongly regulated by the male-centered art world. The term yeoryu misul has been used to exclude and denigrate art produced by women from mainstream male art since modern times. This term often implies “art by modest female artists seeking artistry” and denies feminism. In response to this tendency, yeoseong misul was a term devised by Minjung female artists who rejected the title of yeoryu misul and equally rejected yeoseongjuui misul—the transliterated term for feminist art peminiseuteu misul as well—that they considered being derived from the West. Kim Insoon, Kim Jinsuk, and Yun Suknam of the October Gathering, who attended the National Art Association (Minjok misul hyeobuihoe) in 1985, established the Women's Art Division within the National Art Association in 1986 to shed light on the absence of criticism of the patriarchy and to bring attention to women’s issues. The division was renamed the Women's Art Research Society (Yeoseong misul yeonguhoe) in 1988. This history shows how the term yeoseong misul is contextualized in South Korea. Even if the artists refused to directly use the term feminism and its translation yeoseongjuui, yeoseong misul in the 1980s referred to art activism as a part of the women’s liberation movement. In fact, yeoseong misul was considered feminist art in its early days and was defined as “art for the liberation of women oppressed by gender and class.”39 Kim Hyeonjoo analyzes that yeoseong misul was gradually replaced by yeoseongjuui misul in the 1990s when the main topic of feminism shifted from activism to culture. In these circumstances, yeoseong misul was evaluated as “simplifying women’s issues or reducing them to class problems” and “leaning on theory in a violent and authoritative way.”40

One should pay attention to the historical status of yeoseong misul. Kim Hyeonjoo argues that even though yeoseong misul was, in fact, both minjung art and feminist art, it was simply reduced to minjung art or was marginalized and erased within the institutional evaluations of minjung art led by male critics in Korean art history. On the other hand, in the 1990s, culture-oriented yeoseongjuui misul was accepted as “authentic” feminist art due to its affinity with Western feminist art, while yeoseong misul was dismissed as an art only useful in creating the base for yeoseongjuui misul. In addition, as the 1990s came to be defined as an era of postmodernist art and feminist art was incorporated as part of this dynamic, yeoseong misul was further alienated from mainstream Korean art history.41

The confrontation between yeoseong misul and yeoseongjuui misul in the 1990s was largely based on the dichotomous view of Kim Honghee, who was an influential figure as a feminist art critic and curator. Kim Honghee divided Korean feminist art into two categories: yeoseong misul, based on minjung art in the 1980s, and yeoseongjuui misul, based on postmodernism in the 1990s. Kim Honghee again divided yeoseongjuui misul into two subcategories: one led by female artists who were former Minjung artists and pioneered their own art world through postmodernism (e.g. Yun Suknam, Jung Jungyeob) and the other led by a new generation of postmodernist artists (e.g. Lee Bul, IUM). She argued that the latter artists mainly led the production of feminist art in 1990s South Korea. Her classification was based on the view that evaluated the aesthetic maturity and cultural practice of yeoseongjuui misul higher than the political activism of yeoseong misul, which she negatively referred to as “female minjung art” or “militant women's art.”42 Kim Honghee also attempted to differentiate yeoseongjuui misul from another sect, yeoseongjeog misul (feminine art), stating, “yeoseongjuui misul consciously emphasizes femininity and sheds light on women’s issues, whereas yeoseongjeog misul represents feminine sensitivity naturally and unconsciously.” In short, Kim Honghee as an art critic and historian categorized and re-organized yeoseongjeog misul and yeoseong misul while giving full priority to yeoseongjuui misul over the two. But as an exhibition planner, she created exhibitions that encompassed all these categories. This not only led to criticism of her conceptual ambiguity but also prompted some female artists who participated in her exhibitions to attempt to distance themselves from yeoseongjuui misul or feminist identity.43

Yang Eunhee pointed out that the 1990s was a meaningful period in that female art historians started feminist discussions, raised questions about male-dominated art history, and rediscovered forgotten historical female artists, in addition to holding feminist art exhibitions, such as Woman, The Difference and the Power (1994) or Patjis on Parade (1999). However, she argued that these movements “failed to revolutionarily expand their scope but remained within the existing discourse as a singular methodology.”44 
The history of Korean art was a history of political conflicts between figurative and abstract, or Dansaekhwa and Minjung art. As a result, it developed into a confrontation of each male artist group. Even in the confrontation between “personal art” and “activist art,” the artist was almost assumed as male, while female artists were described in discriminatory terms, such as gyusujakga (maiden artist) or yeoryujakga (female artist) and excluded from the male-dominated art world. 
Considering that even after the number of female artists increased and feminism was widely accepted in South Korea, feminism could not induce significant changes as an active political movement in the art world, except for a few cases of successful female artists. In particular, rather than aiming for political and subversive goals, feminism’s theoretical importation and introduction to South Korea remained passive as a simple addition to academic discourses for diversity in existing art magazines, academic journals, and exhibitions, and eventually failed to induce meaningful changes in the existing patriarchal art system.45

In relation to the above perspective, Yang Eunhee suggested the failure of feminism in the South Korean art world. Her outlook for the future, based on the results of interviews with female professors, researchers, curators, and critics working in the art field, was even darker.46 Her view seems relevant to the aspects of the Korean art world raised by Kim Hyeonjoo that has marginalized and erased the narrative of yeoseong misul, which was aware of and practiced feminist activism in Korean art history. If the evaluation of minjung art is inseparable from the evaluation of political activism, the evaluation of feminist art is also inseparable from feminist activism in art. Nevertheless, as the tendency to limit feminist art as mere “feminist color in the artwork” or as “a subgenre or methodology in art” became dominant, feminist activism in art was forgotten and marginalized in South Korea. This indicates that a selective approach to historical art activism exists. In addition, the selective evaluation of historical art activism is bound to affect the evaluation of current art activism, such as the #SexualViolence_In_ArtWorld movement. This is because as long as the perspective that excludes activism in feminist art is dominant, it will be difficult for any type of feminist activism to have a proper discussion within the academic field of art history in the present or future. Therefore, if the #SexualViolence_In_ArtWorld movement can be considered a rare illustration of feminist activist art in Korea, this art activism should begin with a reflection on our art history’s evaluation method that has marginalized feminist activism in art.

IV. Task for Feminist Art History Reboot: Calling for Linda Nochlin or Feminist Activism

A famous question, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” is the title of a 1971 essay by Linda Nochlin, a feminist art historian. It is not a coincidence that her provocative question is being recalled again in the age of the #MeToo Movement. Nearly 50 years have passed since the article’s publication, but the problems and challenges raised by Nochlin are still relevant to the present need for Feminism Reboot that triggered the #MeToo movement. The intersection between Nochlin and Feminist Reboot is what makes her essay relevant to contemporary issues.  

Nochlin pointed out that the feminist movement, which was escalating at the time, mainly focused on the immediate needs of the present and thus did not have enough historical analysis of intellectual controversies. She argued that the feminist movement should grasp the ideological foundation of various intellectual and academic principles:
If, as John Stuart Mill suggested, we tend to accept whatever is as natural, this is just as true in the realm of academic investigation as it is in our social norm. In the former, too, “natural” assumptions must be questioned, and the mythic basis of much so-called fact brought to light. . . In the field of art history, the white Western male viewpoint unconsciously accepted as the viewpoint of the art historian may, and does, prove to be inadequate not merely on moral and ethical grounds or because it is elitist but on purely intellectual ones. . . Just as Mill saw male domination as one of a long series of social injustices that had to be overcome if a truly just social order were to be created, so we may see the unstated domination of white male subjectivity as one in a series of intellectual distortions which must be corrected in order to achieve a more adequate and accurate view of [history].
It is the engaged feminist intellect . . . not merely in dealing with the question of women, but in the very way of formulating the crucial questions of the discipline as a whole. Thus, the so-called woman question, far from being a minor, peripheral, and laughably provincial sub-issue grafted onto a serious, established discipline, can become a catalyst, an intellectual instrument, probing basic and ‘natural’ assumptions, providing a paradigm for other kinds of internal questioning, and in turn providing links with paradigms established by radical approaches in other fields.47

For Nochlin, the feminist question was redefined as a strategic intellectual tool to overcome the academic distortion of art history, namely, the view of white Western men forming the dominant view of art history. The question, “Why have there been no great women artists?” functioned as such a strategic tool for her. In other words, this question was a useful tool in that it revealed the complexity of problematic perceptions related to female artists as well as shed light on the part that was not asked by this question. This question could fabricate the nature of the issue, cleverly inducing the answer from mainstream male artists that [the absence of great female artists] was because women artists do not have “great qualities.” However, feminist artists responded to this question differently. On the one hand, they tried to rediscover and excavate “great” female artists who have historically been unfairly evaluated, and on the other hand, they tried to identify other types of “greatness” in femininity that could not be found in men’s art. Despite the hard work of these feminists, Nochlin addressed the limitations in both approaches, as the former reproduced the masculine norm of “greatness” by not challenging the premise behind the question, while the latter was also limited because not all female artists could be explained in terms of femininity, as femininity must not necessarily be the defining characteristic of every female artist.

Nochlin, instead, did take issue with the premise of the question, “Why have there been no great women artists?” According to her, the premise of the question showed “many naive, distorted, uncritical assumptions about the making of art in general as well as the making of great art.  . . . the Great Artist is, of course, conceived of as one who has ‘Genius’; Genius, in turn, is thought of as an atemporal and mysterious power.  . . . . It is no accident that the crucial question of the conditions generally productive of great art has so rarely been investigated or that attempts to investigate such general problems have, until fairly recently, been dismissed as unscholarly, too broad, or the province of some other discipline, like sociology.”48 This assumed premise, Nochlin argued, has been the “erroneous intellectual substructure” in the study of art history. She pointed out that achievement in art was determined by institutional and public conditions, not by personal and private ones. 
[T]he total situation of art making . . . occur in a social situation, . . . are mediated and determined by specific and definable social institutions, be they art academies, systems of patronage, mythologies of the divine creator, artist as he-man or social outcast.49

Nochlin claimed, “Far from being totally unpredictable or uncaused, great art was usually produced in fairly predictable situations.”50 According to her, “great art,” as the exclusive property of male artists, could not be created without the mediation of the art system or social system. Therefore, she argued that the unequal social structure, in which women cannot achieve artistic success institutionally no matter how talented they are, should be the subject of research in art history, and she herself practiced this principle throughout her life.51 Nochlin set “the implementation of justice” for women as the goal of the women's movement, calling the obvious discrimination or injustice against women being deprived of opportunities a fundamental inequality, and argued early on for the gender equality movement to resolve this issue.52 Furthermore, she called for a change in the social system to resolve the situation in which no matter how much women advance into society, childcare and housework become women’s work because of “the whole way that women are dealt with from the moment they enter the world.”53
I think that it is the business of the feminist movement in every field and on every level to combat both of these types of injustices, through action, through thought, through the pursuit of truth, and through the constant questioning and piercing through of our so-called “natural” assumptions. And it’s only in this way that feminism can be a real weapon for injustice for 51 percent of humanity, which is us.54

As such, Nochlin was an activist who considered continuing to question “natural” assumptions in her academic field of art history as part of a feminist movement fighting against injustice in society as a whole, including in the art world. Her art historical questions were the weapon of the feminist movement.

Griselda Pollock stated that feminist art history originated within art history when Linda Nochlin asked her seminal question.55 Pollock interpreted Nochlin’s question as a “call for a paradigm shift,” suggesting that Nochlin would challenge the premise inherent in this question, namely the (academic and social) norm of masculine-defined “greatness.”56 She defined art history as a kind of dominant structure and aimed to challenge it politically. According to Pollock, “the structural sexism of most academic disciplines contributes actively to the production and perpetuation of a gender hierarchy,”57 and “art history itself is to be understood as a series of representational practices which actively produce definitions of sexual difference and contribute to the present configuration of sexual politics and power relations.”58 Therefore, “as Feminism-as-a-movement aims [for] the revolution of social reality, Feminism­as­a­theory aims [for a] revolution in knowledge” and “functions as a complement to [the] women’s social movement.”59 Her assertive position remained the same in the field of art history. In this context, “the political point of feminist art history must be to change the present by means of how we re-represent the past,” and that is why art historians must “contribute to the present day struggles of living producers.”60 Her position consistently aligned with approaches that actually broke the boundaries between art history, sociology, politics, and anthropology and served to blur or break the boundaries among art production, art criticism, and art history through the feminist movement.
Where we are coming from is not some other fledgling discipline or interdisciplinary formation. It is from the women’s movement made real and concrete in all the variety of practices in which women are actively engaged to change the world. This is no “new art history” aiming to make improvements, bring it up to date, season the old with current intellectual fashions or theory soup. The feminist problem in this particular field of the social is shaped by the terrain. . . on which we struggle. But it is ultimately defined within that collective critique of social, economic, and ideological power which is the women’s movement.61

The reason Nochlin and her questions are frequently invoked by South Korean feminists both in academia and the public arena under the #MeToo Movement era is not only because of a desire to pay homage to art historians and critics who actively adopted feminist activism. It would rather be derived from the urgency that “the paradigm shift,” raised in the field of art history through their hard work, is now called for more than ever before. In this sense, in the era of the #MeToo movement and Feminism Reboot, reflections on the structure, operation, and reproduction of art history should be approached from the perspective of summoning feminist activism and solidarity, which has been marginalized in Korean modern and contemporary art history. And I believe that this is the very starting point for Feminist Art History Reboot as a response to Feminist Reboot, raised from the demand for the safety and survival of young women in South Korea.

V. Conclusion

Cho Eunyoung, an art historian and professor, said, “It is our shameful self-portrait that the college #MeToo started from the movement of students who could not take it anymore, not from the self-reflective and self-corrective movement of professors.”62 The first person to make an accusation of sexual violence in the South Korean art world was a 21-year-old art college student (who was assaulted at the age of 20), and the accused perpetrator was Ham Youngjun, a curator of the Ilmin Museum of Art. Throughout the art world, the #MeToo movement publicized the voice of victims that sexual violence had been existing in the art world as a “power-based social structural problem” and led to the improvement of the system. However, if the #MeToo movement revealed structural problems in the art world as well as in cultural communities and further in our society, passing on the resolution of this structural problem to women in their 20s, who are still unable to obtain any political, social, economic, and cultural capital, is not a way to terminate our “shame” nor to properly solve the problem. 

This article first tried to reveal that the common identity of women was newly formed around the demand to secure the survival and safety of women by situating the hashtag movement #SexualViolence_In_ArtWorld in the extension of Feminism Reboot, a self-sustaining feminist movement of South Korean women in their 20s and 30s. A young woman in the art world will be routinely exposed to the threat of sexual harassment or sexual violence that threatens not only her survival as a woman but also her survival as an artist. The fact that the unequal power relationship in the art world reveals itself in the form of sexual violence means that the nature of this relationship is based on gendered power, and the condition that enables the inequality is a long structured male solidarity in the art world.

It has been repeatedly pointed out that the academic field of art history has also marginalized feminist art history in such a structural situation. The tendency to limit feminist art as “a subgenre art or a methodology in art” is correlated to the fate of feminist art history. In addition, the historical evaluation of feminist art in South Korea has been established in a way that distinguishes feminist art activism as the women’s liberation movement from cultural feminist art, whereas the artistic evaluation of the latter has been constructed in a way to underestimate the value of the former. This demonstrates that the art world contributes to maintaining a strong male-centered art history rather than decentralizing it. In the field of art history, which has marginalized historical feminist activism, it is still difficult to establish a place for current feminist activism, such as the #SexualViolence_In_ArtWorld movement. And as long as this prejudiced way of evaluating art history remains unchanged, women artists’ voices, activities, and feminist art are likely to be limited or forgotten within the framework of merely “feminist color in the artwork.”

‘For this reason, the feminist activist approach to art history by Linda Nochlin, which defined art history as a kind of dominant structure and as a supplement to the social movement of women, is summoned more powerfully in the #MeToo era. Nochlin, who did not insist on art history as an independent academic system but positioned it in a wide range of feminist movements and encouraged active solidarity with the field of art, set the duty of feminist art history as changing the present. Therefore, reflection on the existence of art history in the context of #MeToo Movement and Feminism Reboot will require us to relocate history in the practical dimension that changes society. And the Feminist Art History Reboot, responding to the Feminist Reboot that emerged from the demand for the safety and survival of young women, should start with the reflective transformation of art history.