North Korean worker art under hammer in Paris

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PARIS, Sep 28 (Reuters) Depictions of joyful construction workers, resolute fighting men and a modestly smiling flower seller go under the hammer on Monday when a rare lot of North Korean art is auctioned in Paris.

The event, part of a sale of modern Asian artworks by auctioneers Artcurial, offers an unusual glimpse into artistic life in the secretive North, an apparently changeless world of cheerful faces and brightly coloured Socialist Realism.

''Morning on a Construction Site'' and ''Along the New Road'' by Kim-Hong Il or ''Railway Builder'' by Yi Chol Ryung all faithfully reproduce the heroic style of 1930s Soviet art despite being painted within the past decade.

The sale includes cinema posters with titles such as ''Soldiers in Unit 1211'', ''The Story of a Party Worker'' and ''A Flower Seller'', all painted on paper and all echoing the same unwaveringly upbeat tone.

Reportedly a passion of North Korea's ''Dear Leader'' Kim Jong-il, the cinema has long provided an outlet for the country's artists, whose posters of smiling workers and soldiers put an accessible face on its ''juche'' (self-reliance) doctrine.

The location of the auction in the Hotel Dassault, a distinctly unsocialist neoclassical palace off the Champs-Elysees, jars slightly with the proletarian subject matter but underlines the retrochic attraction of old communist imagery in the prosperous West.

With estimates set at 1,500-1,800 euros for the main paintings and 500-800 euros for the film posters, the auction result is likely to be relatively modest in comparison with prices elsewhere in the booming Asian art scene.

However the novelty value and rarity of the pictures as well as the striking images themselves have attracted wide interest, according to organisers.

''It's the first time North Korean art has been auctioned abroad, as far as I know,'' said Pia Copper, a specialist in Chinese art at Artcurial, who is managing the sale and who said she had received numerous enquiries from South Korean dealers.

While the North Korean pictures stand out, the auction will also include works from other countries normally remote from the Western art scene including Iran and Myanmar, reflecting the widening tastes of collectors.

''People go absolutely anywhere nowadays,'' said Copper. ''It's really a race to find something new.'' REUTERS SG PM0840

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