Korean Art in a New Display

The new Korean gallery at the Brooklyn Museum. (Photo by Kyeongmin Park for Voices of NY)

Korean artwork representing various periods, from Silla (6th century) to the contemporary, are now on display at the Brooklyn Museum after several years of renovation. “Arts of Korea,” from the permanent collection of the museum, opened on Sept. 26. Members of the Korean Art Society, whose president is Robert Turley, were given a special tour the day following the opening.

Four years ago, the Brooklyn Museum closed all Asian galleries for renovation and to install an air conditioning system. Now the second floor where the Asian galleries are located not only has a new climate control system, but also larger, more welcoming and well-lit galleries.

Ewer in the shape of a lotus bud, Goryeo dynasty. (Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum)

Thanks to grants from the National Museum of Korea, the Korean gallery was the first among the museum’s Asian galleries to reopen – the other Asian galleries will be unveiled over the next few years. Interestingly, the location of the Korean gallery is next to what will be the new Indian and Himalayan exhibitions.

“We felt strongly that we didn’t want to just sandwich Korea between China and Japan the way it usually is [done] although that makes some sense geographically,” said Joan Cummins, the Lisa and Bernard Selz curator of Asian Art at the Brooklyn Museum. “We wanted people to notice the collection by putting it next to collections that really [don’t] resemble it that much. We were hoping that it would really stand out as a distinctive gallery of its own.”

Red hat and case from the 19th century, Joseon dynasty (Photo by Jonathan Dorado courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum)

The museum began its collection of Korean artwork in 1913 after a curator visited the country and brought back some works, and the museum says that it opened the first gallery of Korean art in the continental U.S. in 1977. The gallery has representative relics such as porcelains and celadon ceramics, which are very familiar to Korean art fans. However, it also has, from the 19th century Joseon dynasty, an elaborately carved palanquin for a funerary procession made of wood and metal and a red hat made of lacquered horsehair, cloth and bamboo, and its storage case. These are examples of works rarely seen, even in Korea.

With a limited space, the gallery displays relics representative of many periods chronologically so that viewers can experience different aspects of the beauty and philosophy of the Silla period (6th century), the Goryo dynasty (12th century), the Joseon dynasty (19th century) and the contemporary period.

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