Colorful Design

Advancing the Presence of Korean Art: 25 Years of The Met’s Arts of Korea Gallery

Asia Korea

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of The Met’s Arts of Korea Gallery, Lineages: Korean Art at The Met promotes cultural understanding through pieces that express more than three centuries of Korean tradition, history, and socio-cultural change.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, otherwise known as ‘The Met,’ has a long history of collecting and sharing Korean art with its visitors from around the globe. The first Korean pieces of art collected by The Met were eight musical instruments in 1889. Since then, The Met has continued to steadily collect Korean art, acquiring rare pieces like a Goryeo-period — 12th century — inlaid lacquer box. In 1998, they signaled their commitment to the study of Korean art by establishing the first permanent gallery dedicated to Korean art — one of the first in the United States.

In celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of The Met’s Arts of Korea Gallery the exhibition Lineages: Korean Art at The Met will open on November 7th. Supported by South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the exhibition will be accessible until October 20th, 2024. Over thirty pieces will be exhibited dating from the 12th century to the present. Four themes define the exhibition — lines, things, places, and people. The Met Director and CEO Max Hollein described the exhibition as follows, “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 exhibition includes both works acquired by the museum over the past 25 years and international loans of 20th century art. The loans include the early 20th century piece “Paradise” by Baik Namsoon from the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art’s Lee Kun-hee Collection. “Paradise” is considered the most noteworthy modern art piece from the late Samsung Chair’s collection. The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art and the Leeum Museum of Art will also be loaning The Met pieces by Suh Se Ok, Kim Whanki, Lee Ufan, and Lee Seung-taek.

In a recent press release Associate Curator at The Met Eleanor Soo-ah Hyun stated, “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.”

Furthermore, the exhibition is part of a trend, with at least four major museums — the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Denver Art Museum, and the San Diego Museum of Art — across the country holding exhibitions of Korean art this fall. While Korean fine art has had a smaller presence than other Korean cultural exports like K-pop in the United States, through efforts by museums like The Met, Korean art is on the rise in the American art world.

Bettyjane Hoover is a Young Professional at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a graduate student at American University’s School of International Service, studying International Affairs with a focus on the Indo-Pacific region.