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Los Angeles County Museum of Art Unveils Newly Reinstalled Korean Galleries
Reinstallation of LACMA Korean art galleries. September, 2009. Photo: © 2009 Museum Associates/LACMA.

LOS ANGELES, CA.- As part of its ongoing Transformation, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) unveils its newly reinstalled Korean galleries, which comprise the largest permanent space devoted to Korean art outside of South Korea. LACMA’s Korean collection is recognized as the most comprehensive outside of Korea and Japan, despite a relatively short history of collecting. Representing work from the fifth through twentieth centuries, the installation features a hundred objects from the Three Kingdoms, Goryeo, and Joseon periods, including Buddhist and literati art, ceramics, lacquer, paintings, and sculpture. Many masterpieces from the museum’s collection will be on view, along with The Pensive Bodhisattva (late sixth century), a national treasure on loan from the National Museum of Korea that has rarely been exhibited outside of Korea. The Korean galleries reopen during LACMA’s special exhibition Your Bright Future: 12 Contemporary Artists from Korea (on view through September 20, 2009), continuing the museum’s efforts to enrich the public dialogue on Korean art and culture.

“I am especially proud to see our permanent galleries for Korean art reopen to the public,” says Michael Govan, LACMA CEO and Wallis Annenberg Director. “After the success of Your Bright Future, which was able to bring so many new visitors from Los Angeles’s thriving Korean community, Reinstallation of LACMA Korean art galleries, September, 2009 The Pensive Bodhisattva, late sixth century it is extremely gratifying to keep that momentum going by giving traditional Korean art a permanent—and prominent—home in our galleries.”

Highlights from LACMA’s collection on view
Organized thematically, the new galleries explore the cultures of women and men during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, modes of visual representation and expression in Korean painting, Buddhist spirituality and rituals, and the exquisite beauty of Korean ceramics. A significant number of masterpieces will be on display illustrating these themes. Highlights include a finely detailed eight-panel screen, the only one of seven versions known to remain in existence (1868); a rare scholar’s portrait by the renowned court painter Byeon Sangbyeok (1750); a gilt bronze seal created for one of the most celebrated queens in Korean history (sixteenth century); and a well-preserved jar characteristic of the rich porcelains from the Joseon period (eighteenth century).

Other key works from LACMA’s collection will be on view for the first time including more than 130 objects from the Asakawa-Henderson Korean Ceramic Shard Collection, which consists of more than 850 ceramic shards gathered from all around the Korean peninsula during the 1910s and ‘20s by Japanese researchers. A valuable resource for research on Korean ceramics, the collection consists of a large variety of ceramic types, spanning many centuries. The shards also serve as archaeological documentation for their original kiln sites. LACMA is the only institution outside Korea and Japan to hold such a comprehensive collection of the historic shards. Other works that will be on display for the first time include three works from an important series of Buddhist paintings, Ten Kings of Hell, which have just been conserved and were never previously exhibited due to their delicate condition; the Amita Buddha (1735), another masterpiece from the museum’s collection, accompanied by materials illustrating the process of creating a Buddha sculpture that were discovered inside the work; and recently acquired Korean ceramics from the Joseon and Goryeo periods.

Major loans from Korea on view
A selection of twenty-six works from Korea will be on display in the new galleries. The highlight is The Pensive Bodhisattva—a rare opportunity to view an extraordinary national treasure outside of Korea. Created during the Three Kingdoms period (57 BC–AD 668), the sculpture was cast by a sophisticated, now lost wax technique that was rarely used at the large scale of this work. The remarkable quality of the work’s modeling and its smoothly silhouetted body represent a high point in Buddhist sculpture. Communicating strength and elegance, the Bodhisattva’s balanced posture, exquisite drapery, and meditative expression are all attributes associated with the work, which today is one of Korea’s most recognized icons. In LACMA’s installation, the work is installed in the center of the galleries, allowing visitors to view the sculpture from all angles.

Casework and multimedia didactics
Taking a unique approach to displaying traditional Korean art, LACMA has commissioned Korean architecture firm One O One Architects to design the casework for the installation. Although the overall look of the cases is contemporary, One O One infused traditional elements into the design. The cases contain two kinds of traditional Korean paper: thick floor paper, commonly laid on heated floors of Korean buildings, has been applied to the outer walls of the cases, and thin, organic paper, typically used to line building windows and walls, has been placed in the interior of the cases to lie underneath the objects. The proportions of the cases were also influenced by traditional Korean furniture.

For the first time in a permanent installation, the new galleries feature multimedia didactics that combine text and imagery on screens to provide greater context for the galleries’ narratives. The didactics are imagedriven and their texts nonlinear so that the visitors can begin viewing the screens at any time while in the galleries. The screens focus on key gallery themes, such as Korean Buddhist art and ceramics, while also highlighting specific genres and objects on view. Together with the installation’s thematic approach and unique design, the multimedia didactics seek to provide the museum’s diverse audiences greater accessibility to and interactivity with Korean art and culture.

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