If you live in Korea and this is the first you’ve heard of Nancy Lang, it definitely won’t be the last.
She is fast on her way to becoming one of Korea’s biggest celebrities. But that’s not her ultimate goal. Instead she wants to become world famous, and though a lofty ambition to be sure, one day she may very well be able to make that claim.
Longtime readers of this blog may be familiar with the way in which I came to know of Ms. Lang. The story goes thusly: I was at home one weekend in early April, taking care of the little girl, when I caught Nancy Lang on TV, in an interview recorded for Ch. Art (에술 TV). I was instantly captivated, and that day composed this Psychedelic Kimochi entry, the final paragraph of which reads: “I'm hoping to in the future get an interview with her; here is a woman Psychedelic Kimchi readers want to know more about. I know I do.” And I meant it. A few days later I sent her an email, requesting an interview.
I certainly didn't imagine she'd respond, though.
Much to my surprise, she did, accepting my invitation. Initially the interview was going to be over the phone, but we could never schedule something solid (she's got one hectic schedule, as you'll soon discover). Nevertheless, she kept telling me that she wanted to do the interview, and she sounded completely genuine.
Finally, this past Tuesday she said she was available on Sunday, and instead of the telephone interview I had imagined, she suggested we meet in Apkujeong.
Fast forward to Sunday. While on my way to Apkujeong, she called me to re-confirm our meeting place, the Hyundai department store. I arrived early for our five o' clock meeting, so I decided to check whether the CD store where I sometimes used to shop was still in business. It wasn't. At a quarter to five I made my way back towards the department store, but while walking in the underground subway passage, I ran into her.
And let me say this: as comely as she appears on television and in photos, she is remarkably more stunning in person. I say that without a hint of pretense. She is absolutely drop-dead gorgeous.
“Nancy,” I said.
She looked up, a little surprised. Then she told me she thought I was going to be much older. Ajeossi was the word she used. I asked her if she was disappointed. Not at all, she said.
The feeling was more than mutual.
We made our way above ground and headed towards Starbucks. Upon entering, however, we both realized how crowded and noisy it was, and Nancy led the way straight out the back door.
We ended up in a basement-level beer hall close by; and it was an infinitely better environment in which to conduct the interview. In fact, for the majority of our conversation we were the only patrons in the place.
After settling down and ordering two beers and a fruit platter (which, lamentably, was left untouched), we each took some photos and then began the interview. I actually had a notebook containing questions which I had prepared prior, but Nancy Lang is such an engaging, easy-to-talk-to person that I ditched them in favor of whatever came up during our conversation.
And what a revealing hour and a half I spent with her. Trust me, she's got a fascinating story. My only regret is that we couldn’t speak longer.
Let me reiterate: if you haven't heard of Nancy Lang until now, chances are you will again soon. She's everywhere these days: in the business world, in advertising, fashion, modeling, art, television and publishing. If Howard Stern can profess himself to be King of All Media, then this writer is dubbing Ms. Lang the Queen of All Media.
Yes, Nancy Lang is her real name. Born Park Hye-Ryeong (박혜령), she legally changed her name to Nancy Gloria Lang to better reflect her art and help in her international aspirations. She was born in New York City (and, thusly, possesses dual citizenship), where her mother lived for 20 years, running a very profitable promotions business which used to schedule such legendary performers as Frank Sinatra and Anne Murray to perform on Korean variety shows. However, not long after Nancy's birth, her mother decided to return to Korea and start a new business, importing and exporting luxury furniture and designer clothes.
An only child, during elementary school Nancy studied piano, figure skating, tennis and tae kwon do. She realized early on that she had a penchant for art, and focused on her talent during her formative years. Later, shortly before Nancy was to begin middle school, her mother contracted cancer -- a fact she withheld from her daughter -- and Nancy was sent to live with her two uncles in the Philippines. There she attended the Brent International School in Manila, where she learned to speak fluent English -- though she fears her fluency has since declined -- and found she was able to better express her creativity than had she remained in Korea. Like many, Nancy feels creativity in the Korean education system is stifled.
“In high school, they have art and music and athletic programs, but they don't do it...the students study other subjects with other teachers.”
Her family's considerable wealth enabled Nancy to spend summers vacationing in Korea (as well as in the U.S. and Japan), but she returned to Korea for good 3 years later, and, studying under the International Baccalaureate program and receiving her IB diploma, during high school was fortunate to further pursue her dream of becoming a famous artist. After graduation she planned to attend Yale, but her mother worried because she had no relatives in the States, and instead wished for her to major in English at Ewha Woman’s University. Nancy adamantly opposed the idea.
“I didn't want to study with women!” she says with a laugh.
She eventually enrolled at Hongik University, where she would receive her bachelor's and master's degrees in Fine Arts. Many of those years in university were very tough for her, however.
While Nancy was a university senior, her mother was again diagnosed with cancer and had to spend a year in the hospital. Consequently, and combined with some other factors, her business collapsed, and Nancy's family's once-substantial fortune all but disappeared.
She admits that the 3 or 4 years during her senior year and into graduate school were very difficult. She began drinking and partying a lot, and at one point even contemplated suicide. Tragically, she also lost her father in an automobile accident not long after finishing her graduate studies.
These combined hardships were very sobering for her. Pursuing art was difficult with limited financial resources, and she was faced with the very possible reality of having to forsake her art and take a nine-to-five office job -- a prospect which frightened her because, as she says, art was all she really knew.
So she continued to work on her art. Fortuitously, in 2003, through a mutual acquaintance she was contacted by the head of Warner Music Korea and invited to produce artwork for Linkin Park in conjunction with the Korean release of their sophomore album, Meteora; though at the time she admits she had never heard of the band, whose debut is certified Diamond (10 times platinum).
“I don't watch TV that much,” she says innocently.
Although she was unaware of the group at the time, she was more than eager to sign on for the project, her primary motive being -- due to the financial problems which she was facing -- monetary gain.
“I love dollars,” she states honestly, with the tone of a struggling artist who knows how it is to be without them.
Her career picked up somewhat, and she had several exhibitions in Seoul, but she longed to reach a broader audience. She would get her wish when, later that year, she showed up unannounced at the Venice Biennale, showcasing her Uninvited Dreams and Conflicts; Taboo Yogini Series project. She would repeat this form of guerrilla art exhibition in various locations in Manhattan, as well.
It was at this point that her career really began to take off. She was quickly becoming not only a well-known figure in the Korean art scene, but also in the media. A self-admitted lover of designer fashion, she says that she always made sure during a photo opportunity to show off her favorite Louis Vuitton handbag, an idea which, as fate would have it, would lead to a future collaboration between her and the couture brand.
As the story goes, during an airplane flight Louis Vuitton's Asia Pacific President, Francois Delage, saw, in a copy of the Korean magazine WHO, a photo of Nancy posing with her LV handbag. He tore the picture out and later showed it to Louis Vuitton Korea president Cho Hyun-Wook. Cho contacted Nancy, who was eventually commissioned to produce visual art for the opening of a Louis Vuitton store in Myeong-dong, Seoul.
“I'm very thankful to him,” Lang says of Cho.
It’s fairly safe to say that, these days, Nancy doesn’t have any problems finding projects to keep her busy. When I ask whether she has considered acting -- which besides music appears to be the only media outlet she has yet to conquer -- she tells me that a few famous directors have contacted her, but so far she has refused because the roles offered haven’t meshed with her art concept.
Amazingly, she doesn’t have a manager.
“I’m a one-man army,” she says proudly.
It’s clear that she relishes the recent comfort of being able to pick and choose her creative endeavors.
Here’s an exhaustive list of her current projects, as well as a few recently completed: she hosts the show Trend Report Pill (트렌드리포트必), which airs Monday to Friday on music station Mnet; she writes a weekly fashion column for the Ilgan Sports tabloid; Korea Telecom’s Megapass brand based an entire ad campaign around her; she has her own eponymous clothing line, designed by herself and an assistant; she recently published her first book, Bikinis In Modern Art (비키니입은현대미술); she runs her own website, http://nancylang.com; she makes frequent TV appearances and does modeling work; and for the past year she’s worked as an art director for Ssamzie Sport, a domestic fashion label -- although she says she won't renew her contract once it's completed later this month. Once a notorious sleeper (“I used to sleep between 12 and 15 hours a day when I was young”), she deserves to take a rest. These days she says she only sleeps around 5 hours a day. A salaryman might be able to handle that kind of schedule, but it's tough on her, she says.
But if, as she insists, she is exhausted, it certainly doesn’t show in her outward appearance and manner. She wears an expression that exudes energy, enthusiasm, and friendliness, and when she speaks she uses a lot of body language to accentuate her points. One gets the impression that she is an eternal optimist; surprising given the hardships she's had to face, but also admirable and endearing.
When I ask about the major influences on her art, she lists Picasso, Dali, and Warhol as inspiration, not only for their art, but for their eccentric and gregarious lifestyles. Conversely, she claims she's not a big fan of Van Gogh -- not because of his works, which she likes, but rather because of those who find his difficult life and poor mental health a source of twisted, vicarious pleasure.
“People are cruel,” she says, giving the impression that, in art and life, she prefers lighter, happier fare.
Any other major influences?
“Jesus,” she says without hesitation.
Listening to Nancy talk about her faith and belief in god is delightful. Although she says she doesn’t consider herself particularly religious, she attends church (“I cannot go every Sunday, but I'm trying to”) and says that, in the afterlife, she believes god will be proud of her, then mimes a beneficent god patting her on the head like a child who has done a good job.
She's not entirely an angel of mercy, though. There’s a slightly sinister part of her that has revenge planned for her two uncles, who cheated her family out of money when times were hard. Her first act of revenge -- which it appears she has fulfilled -- is to become a better and more successful young woman than her cousins, who are approximately the same age as her. The second act of vengeance, which she plans to enact when she is “rich and powerful enough,” she will not reveal to me.
“You'll know what it is when I do it,” she assures me.
Yet another future project to look forward to from the alluring, multi-talented Nancy Lang.
Monday, July 10, 2006
If you live in Korea and this is the first you’ve heard of Nancy Lang, it definitely won’t be the last.