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President's son criticized for receiving artist relief funds

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A visitor experiences Moon Joon-yong's media art on view at his solo exhibition at Keumsan Gallery in Seoul. News1
A visitor experiences Moon Joon-yong's media art on view at his solo exhibition at Keumsan Gallery in Seoul. News1

Moon Jun-yong's AR exhibition causes controversy over COVID-19 relief fund

By Kwon Mee-yoo

Media artist Moon Joon-yong, the son of President Moon Jae-in, has become embroiled in a controversy after receiving COVID-19 relief funding for artists, in preparation for his solo exhibition.

The exhibit "Beyond Your Eyes, Somewhere In Between" is running from Dec. 13 through Wednesday at Keumsan Gallery in central Seoul. Moon presents five media pieces using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies in his first exhibition in Korea in eight years.

Moon majored in visual design at Konkuk University and graduated from Parsons School of Design and worked as a designer and media artist specializing in AR and VR.

Keumsan Gallery said Moon is one of the leading artists using AR and VR in Korea and the exhibit showcases his experimental works using a variety of media technology.

At first, Moon's exhibition caused a stir for opening amid the spike of COVID-19 cases. The gallery said the exhibition has to be held by the end of the year to comply with funding Moon received.

According to the gallery, about 30 people visited the exhibition daily and it adheres to preventive measures. Private galleries are allowed to open on the condition of limiting the number of visitors per area, whilst state-run museums are closed until further notice.

For this exhibition, Moon applied for the emergency COVID-19 relief fund from the Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture (SFAC) April and received 14 million won ($12,600). Moon was one of the 46 recipients of the COVID-19 relief fund among 281 applicants.

The People Power Party criticized Moon for holding an exhibition when COVID-19 measures have been strengthened and receiving the pandemic-related funding.

Rep. Kim Mi-ae of the opposition People Power Party posted, "There are no regulations against the President's son applying for COVID-19 relief funding, but maybe he should not have applied considering those artists in a more difficult situation, without a father," on Facebook.

Moon refuted the controversy, also on Facebook, explaining the money was not the artist's gain, but used solely for creation and the exhibition.

"My scheduled exhibition was canceled due to COVID-19 and the gallery, curator, technicians and other parties who signed contracts with me suffered losses. These are small artists and institutions. I received the COVID-19 grant to create artworks and host the exhibition and was able to pay those people I made contracts with. Also, my works made under the relief fund will be available for other small exhibitions without additional charge," Moon said, adding that he was an established artist even before his father became president.

The SFAC also clarified that the funding was specifically for artists who were dealt a blow from the COVID-19 pandemic, not for those in non-critical circumstances.

"The relief fund was our annual art creation support program, which differentiates from the grants from the Korean Artists Welfare Foundation. We focused on providing aid for artists whose work or projects were canceled or cut due to the pandemic," an official of the foundation said.

According to the foundation, Moon had to postpone his exhibition three times because of COVID-19 and this was taken into consideration in the screening process.

Kwon Mee-yoo

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