What’s your favorite ‘Treasure from Korea’ at LACMA?

August 27, 2014

LACMALACMA“Treasures from Korea: Arts and Culture of the Joseon Dynasty,” the largest-ever exhibition of Korean art from its longest-running dynasty, is drawing rave reviews. The Korea Times-sponsored event is open at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art through Sept. 28.

(Grapevines, 1876)

Ch’oe Sokhwan – Grapevines, 1876

As of Aug. 13, 41,000 people have visited the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to see “Treasures of Korea: Arts and Culture of the Joseon Dynasty,” the largest-ever exhibition of Joseon art opened in the states.

Sponsored by The Korea Times and open until Sept. 27, the exhibition features 150 pieces of art that spans the dynasty’s 518-year run. We asked Korean Americans in the Los Angeles community to tell us their thoughts on their favorite pieces.

(Portrait of Scholar Official Yun Bonggu in his Seventieth Year, 1750)

(Portrait of Scholar Official Yun Bonggu in his Seventieth Year, 1750)

Kim Young-san, Director of the L.A. Korean Cultural Center
(Portrait of Scholar Official Yun Bonggu in his Seventieth Year, 1750)

With its thin, freely drawn lines expressing movement in Yun’s beard and facial expression, the piece draws a comparison to Peter Paul Rubens’ “Man in Korean Costume” from 1617, which was shown at the Getty Center last year. The costume’s bright color and soft lines are particularly impressionable, as is the artist’s depiction of the era’s nobility. Pyun Sang-byok, the artist of the piece, was a famed portraitist of his time.

Moon In-gwi, poet and President of Korean Literary Society of America
(Moon Jar, 18th century)

I had no idea that a moon had fallen upon LACMA. I came upon the conclusion that the “Moon Jar,” purity in form put forth without decoration, is indeed the moon that hangs in the sky. The jar was made from a sort of rare weed imported during King Sejo’s rule, which means it was born of this earth and the simplicity of commoners. With that image, it is no different from the moon that has continuously shone on us for hundreds of years. The “Moon Jar” allowed anyone to own the moon, regardless of whether they be rulers or subjects — wouldn’t it have been the pride of the people, who embraced the sky moon?

Park Hye-sook, Artist
(Grapevines, 1876)
(The Portrait of the Buddhist Master Seosan, 18th century)

I’ve fallen for the charm of Korean painting, spiritedly drawn with a single line splitting across. You erase and fix continuously as you draw in Western art, and I tend to think our art is on a higher level. To me, unlike Western still lifes that paint only what’s in front of the artist’s eyes, Korean art shows a greater use of space. The Portrait of the Buddhist Master Seosan also shows the height of beauty in pattern and excellence of form in both figure and chair in comparison. I’ve come to believe that Korean art is more elegant and dignified than Western art. It is just not as well-known.

Oh Kyung-ja, Director of Korea Arts Foundation of America
(Bottle with Rope Design, 16th century)

I was amazed when I discovered this jar at the exhibition. I cannot believe an idea like this was developed during that era. They say that art progresses as the eras change, but seeing this piece, I don’t think that’s the truth. The single piece of rope, which winds around the neck of the jar before falling down, is so refined and so modern that it makes me want to see it endlessly in captivation.

LACMA3

(Bottle with Rope Design, 16th century)

Ji Yeon-soo, Curator of Pacific Asia Museum
(Bottle with Rope Design, 16th century)

While showing the particular form of Joseon-era white porcelain jars, the piece also shows the unique artistic sense of Joseon potters. When you look at Chinese and Japanese jars from the same era, their work toward deliberately showcasing the beauty of balance and perfection can clearly be seen, but this piece transcends that craft level to show a creative artist’s mind. It’s also a look into Joseon society of the era, which seems to have appreciated the beauty in restraint and white space.

Kim Yong-jae, Violinist and doctor
(King Hyojong’s Hangeul Letters, 1638)

The piece that drew my attention most wasn’t artwork but a single page letter written in Korean, sent by Bong-rim Daegun, the second son of King Injo to his mother-in-law while captured in Taiwan during the Manchu war. That the prince, who must have studied only with Chinese letters, wrote in Korean letters, used only by commoners and women at the time, shows that he must have also received an education on communicating with the people. I was also intrigued by the books on display written by Westerners who were there during the state of the Korean Empire (1897-1910).

Song Jung-myung, pastor and President of World Mission University
(Royal Protocol for the Wedding of King Yeongjo and Queen Jeongsun, 1759)

This piece depicts the cultural marriage ceremony carried out by the royal family, shows King Young-jo and his queen during their wedding. Through the large group of people in the painting, you can see the era’s hierarchy through titles, costumes and expressions. During King Young-jo’s rule from 1724 to 1776, the country was in stability as the arts flourished, resulting in many published books. I was impressed by the exquisiteness of the painting, which seems to draw out that era’s society like an encyclopedia.

Kim Tae-woong and Oh Soon-ja, Presidents of Korea Arts Foundation of America
(Ten Longevity Symbols, 19th-20th century)

The Ten Longevity Symbols — the 10 items associated with longevity, drew our attention most. The combination of the sun, mountain, water, rocks, clouds, pine trees, elixir plant, turtle, crane and deer is surreal. The Ten Longevity Symbols, which was a wish of good health and longevity, were commonly used by the royal family and is said to have been gifted by kings to senior statesmen at the beginning of the year. People’s wish to live long and healthy hasn’t changed.

Choi Hee-sun, Curator of L.A. Korean Cultural Center
(Grapevines, 1876)

Of the five rooms in the exhibition, the reception room, trim and simple, showcases the integrity of Confucian scholars during the Joseon dynasty. This ink-and-wash 8-fold screen fits well with that atmosphere. The splendid grapevines on the screen don’t overwhelm the room but embrace it, reflecting the scholars’ preference for elegance and gentleness.

 

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