On November 7, 2023, The Metropolitan Museum of Art will present the exhibition Lineages: Korean Art at The Met, which celebrates the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Museum’s Arts of Korea gallery.
The exhibition will showcase30 objects dating from the 12th century to the present day, including works acquired by the Museum in the last 25 years, paired with important international loans of 20th-century art. Some of the objects will rotate during the run of the exhibition. Through four themes—lines, things, places, and people—the exhibition will display the history of Korean art in broad strokes.
The exhibition is made possible by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of the Republic of Korea (MCST).
Max Hollein, The Met’s Marina Kellen French Director and CEO, stated:
“This remarkably beautiful exhibition is both a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Arts of Korea gallery, and an opportunity to reflect on the importance of presenting Korean art for The Met’s international audiences. By pairing historical with modern and contemporary artwork, the show also poses the question of how new lineages and legacies have been shaped by Korean artists responding to the past, their present, and looking toward the future.”
The first works of Korean art to enter The Met collection were eight musical instruments—part of the monumental gift of the Crosby Brown Collection in 1889. Four years later, in 1893, a mid-15th-century buncheong dish decorated with stamp-impressed chrysanthemums and dots in white slip was acquired by the Museum through a gift of 245 Asian ceramics from the Hudson River School painter Samuel Colman and his wife, Ann Lawrence Colman (née Dunham).
The Met’s collection of Korean art grew steadily with the addition of some of the rarest objects, such as a 12th-century inlaid lacquer box and five prized Goryeo-dynasty (918–1392) Buddhist paintings, acquired between 1913 and 1930.
The Met signaled its commitment to the study of Korean art with the establishment of its first permanent gallery dedicated to the subject in 1998. New art forms and topics, such as buncheong, the Diamond Mountains, and the Silla dynasty (57 BCE–935 CE) were introduced to a global audience through pioneering exhibitions and publications.
Eleanor Soo-ah Hyun, Korea Foundation and Samsung Foundation of Culture Associate Curator of Korean Art at The Met, said:
“The significance of the Arts of Korea gallery cannot be overstated. The gallery provides a platform not only to showcase Korean art through groundbreaking exhibitions, but also to develop and increase the presence of Korean art and culture in The Met through acquisitions and public programming. In featuring modern Korean art in this exhibition, The Met is highlighting areas to develop and future pathways to pursue.”
Lineages: Korean Art at The Met opens with the ink painting People by Suh Se Ok (1929–2020). A complex image formed by repeating the character for “human,” People is a captivating landscape of many people that encapsulates the exhibition’s four intertwined thematic sections: Lines, Things, Places, and People.
The first theme, Lines, traces the importance of calligraphy and ink painting in Korean art and the multiple and divergent responses of modern artists to its significance and legacies.
The exhibition continues with Things, which examines the connection between historical and contemporary Korean art through objects. Historically, Korean ceramics have received the greatest attention in the West and comprise the bulk of collections in most Western museums.
The Korean collection at The Met follows this trend. In this theme, ceramics are paired with modern and contemporary works—ranging from Kim Whanki’s Moon and Jarto Byron Kim’s Goryeo Green Glaze #1and Goryeo Green Glaze #2—which look to earlier artforms to draw inspiration from, as well as to question, artistic conventions.
The formation of lineages and histories cannot be separated from Places, the exhibition’s third theme. Place has long been deeply engrained in Korean art, notably in landscapes, with ties to notions of belonging, homeland, and identity. In the 20th century, with colonization and then the division of the peninsula, these notions about place take on additional implications of rupture, displacement, and separation, and these complexities can be seen in the works of Paik Nam-soon and Kim Hong Joo.
The last theme is People. Prior to the 20th century, calligraphy and landscape were the revered modes of painting, and figural representation was predominantly in the form of portraiture.
From the muted but intransient women by Park Soo-keun, to the inscrutable male laborers by Lee Jong-gu, the expansion in the types of and manner in which people are depicted reflect the reconfiguration of the class system and the rapid comprehensive societal change that Korea experienced in the 20th century.
Many of the works in the exhibition could be sorted into more than one thematic section; thus by emphasizing each object and its formal and material characteristics, Lineages:Korean Art at The Met shifts the story of Korean art beyond simple binaries, echoes the artists’ efforts against strict categorizations, and foregrounds the importance of retaining plurality.
The objects are deliberately grouped into loose constellations in order to consider the manner in which stylistic lineages are continued, challenged, or reshaped.
Lineages: Korean Art at The Met is on view until October 20, 2024, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, located at 1000 5th Avenue in New York City.