How The Metropolitan Museum of Art has collected Korean art over the last century is the subject of an exhibition organized in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of its Department of Asian Art. Showcasing more than 70 masterworks in a variety of media—ceramics, painting, sculpture, metalwork, and lacquerware, all drawn from the Museum’s holdings—Korea: 100 Years of Collecting at the Met highlights the individuals and trends that shaped the Metropolitan’s distinctive collection, sometimes deliberately, and sometimes accidentally.
The exhibition is made possible by Samsung.
When the Department of Asian Art (then called “Department of Far Eastern Art”) was established in 1915, the Museum possessed only 65 Korean works, some of which were mistakenly catalogued as Chinese or Japanese. Dubbed the “hermit kingdom,” Korea was then little known to the Western world.
“Today, Korea’s traditional arts as well as pop music, film, and drama are celebrated markers of global culture. Our collection of Korean art, too, has been significantly transformed and continues to evolve,” said Soyoung Lee, Associate Curator for Korean art in the department. “This presentation reveals the modern Western imagination of Korea, and the many ways Korean art came to be viewed and appreciated in America,” she continued.
Ranging in date from the fifth century to the present, works on view in the exhibition exemplify both the distinctness and diversity of Korean art. Major gifts to the Museum from the renowned collections of Mary Griggs Burke and of Herbert and Florence Irving have recently been added to the display in the Korean gallery. Particularly noteworthy are two rare and exquisite paintings—a royal-commissioned Shakyamuni triad dating to 1565 and an early 17th-century Bamboo in the wind by Yi Jeong (1554-1626), the premier artist of ink bamboo and a great-great-grandson of King Sejong (r.1418-50); a striking gilt-wood statue of a seated Buddhist deity; and exquisite examples of Joseon-period (1392-1910) lacquer, especially Clothing box with decoration of dragons, masterfully inlaid with mother-of-pearl, ray skin, and tortoise shell.
Other highlights of the Museum’s collection on view include two rare 14th-century Buddhist paintings, a sublime mid-seventh century gilt-bronze statue of a pensive bodhisattva, an exceptional 12th-century lacquer box inlaid with mother-of-pearl and tortoise shell, and the finest examples of Goreyo-period celadon.
The Arts of Korea Gallery has been refurbished as part of this installation, and all labels have been redone to include basic information in both Korean and Chinese characters for the benefit of the Museum’s growing number of Asian visitors.
The exhibition is organized by Soyoung Lee.