It’s an image unlike many others, revealing what looks like a tranquil state from afar but representing a dangerous border: The Korean Demilitarized Zone.
Contemporary photographer Atta Kim’s powerful print, which he exposed for eight hours, is displayed in Penn’s new Perry World House on Locust Walk. The work can’t be missed, as it’s been intentionally situated in the front lobby, just to the right of where visitors enter.
“At first glance it looks upbeat and positive, like a beautifully cultivated forest,” says University Trustee Richard Perry. “But if you grew up in Korea, you know exactly what it is.”
Perry and his wife Lisa donated the print as well as about 20 other pieces of contemporary artwork from their collections—including photographs, paintings, and statues—to the research center donning their last name.
“We tried to pick pieces that had international backgrounds, that would be stimulating, as well as start discussions,” he says.
A 2004 print by Sze Tsung Leong, a British-American artist, in the first-floor lounge reveals three historical dimensions of the central district in Nanjing, China. Viewers note the ruins of imperial period vernacular houses, followed by partially demolished apartment housing blocks from the Communist period, and in the distance, new office and residential skyscrapers.
“It’s a very provocative piece of art, but also a great example of urbanization, both good and bad,” says Perry.
The variety of showcased artwork only enhances the design of the modern, minimalist building, which over the past five years has been delicately transformed from a 19th-century workers’ cottage into what it is now: A state-of-the-art hub for advancing interdisciplinary, policy-related approaches to the world’s most pressing global issues.
“The artwork is a perfect complement to the strategic nature of Perry World House, and all that it represents,” says University Curator Lynn Marsden-Atlass. “One of the ways that global relationships are made in a nonpolitical way is through art, and art is something that every culture has.”
Marsden-Atlass, also director of the Arthur Ross Gallery, worked closely with the Perrys to complete the installation.
“The Perrys had specific ideas on where to install the art,” she says. “Since they are such passionate collectors, they selected many of the works with particular locations in the building in mind.”
For instance, it was intentional for the Perrys to have the Philip-Lorca diCorcia photographs from the series “Streetwork,” representing London, Los Angeles, and Tokyo, in an upstairs conference room.
“I don’t think it’s a big stretch to assume that there will someday be a meeting in that room with people from each of those cities,” Perry says.
Penn Law Professor and Inaugural Director of the Perry World House William Burke-White says the artwork plays a role in enhancing the center’s goal of being “a place where you leave a different person than when you came in,” simply because of each piece’s engaging, challenging nature.
Burke-White, also the Richard Perry Professor, is greeted every day in his office with two life-size portraits by South Korean artist Do Ho Suh, one of the first internationally recognized artists to experiment with composite photography.
“There’s one of a high school boy and one of a high school girl, and each one is a composite consisting of portraits of 10 different individuals overlaid on top of one another,” explains Burke-White. “To me, that’s all about the role of the individual in society and government. It’s powerful every time I look up from my desk.”
Burke-White says he has intentions of curating an event in the space focused on its artwork, and will perhaps bring a few of the artists to campus for a public talk. In the meantime, though, he suggests Penn community members check out the beautiful pieces for themselves.
“Even if you have no reason to be in the building, you’re welcome to come in and experience it,” he says.