North Korean Art: One Man’s Obsession

On his seven trips to North Korea, Dutch art collector Frans Broersen saw a lot of what he calls “rubbish,” the sort of kitschy and predictable – though skillfully executed – Communist tropes associated with Pyongyang’s paranoid dictatorship and the artists forced to toil for it. “You can buy the propaganda art by the kilo if you want,” he says. But Mr. Broersen was also astounded by the quality of paintings available in the closed-off country, with brush work and moods reminiscent of the Impressionists. He was so moved by some stylized depictions of traditional Korean houses and residential laneways that he told the artist they reminded him of Vincent van Gogh. “He had never heard of van Gogh,” Mr. Broersen says. Mr. Broersen bought roughly 2,500 paintings between 2005 and 2010, assembling one of the largest collections of North Korean art in the world. He believes the collection, which just exhibited in Seoul, has clear artistic merit and is a valuable long-term investment. And although the art itself may not reveal much of substance about secretive North Korea, the process of collecting the paintings offered a telling glimpse inside the most mysterious country on Earth.

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