Organized Panel Session
After the end of World War II and the creation of Cold War blocs in East Asia, visual artists across the region developed diverse styles and subject matters in the name of Realism. This panel focuses on how artists and critics turned to Realism as a medium and mechanism for the avant-garde especially during periods of political tumult and historical change: dialogical relationship between Socialist Realism and modernism in Young Ji Lee’s examination of Chinese and North Korean art during de-Stalinization; what Justin Jesty calls “avant-garde realism” in reportage paintings from 1950s Japan; the political art under hyŏnsiljuŭi (“realism”) during South Korean democracy movement of the 1970s and 1980s in Sohl Lee’s paper; and a returned investment in realism in Peggy Wang’s exploration of the significance of “New Realism” in post-Tiananmen China in the 1990s. Marked by a profound earnestness in their claims for social relevance, artists effected proximity to and directed criticality at the immediate everyday, sometimes desiring a social revolution on a broader scale. By setting their eyes on an expanded scope of political objectives, the artists in these papers cast themselves against dominant histories of modern and contemporary East Asian art that have often excluded or minimized the value of Realism to the avant-garde and its politics. The power of Realism is not located in a particular, definable form, but rather manifested as a complex network of desires for social change, anti-elitism, and political relevance that often traveled across national, regional, and ideological borders in East Asia.