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The Metropolitan Museum of Art receives gift of contemporary lacquerware by artist Chung Haecho
Rhythm of the Five Color Luster (2013) by Chung Haecho. Photo by Paula Lobo. Courtesy of The Met.

NEW YORK, NY.- The South Korean government has presented to The Metropolitan Museum of Art a gift of an exceptional work by one of the leading lacquer artists in Korea, Chung Haecho. The gift was offered in a private ceremony held at the Museum on Monday, September 20, that featured remarks by the First Lady of the Republic of Korea, Kim Jung-sook; the country’s Minister of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, Hwang Hee; and the Korean pop music group BTS, recently appointed as "special presidential envoy for future generations and culture" by President Moon Jae-in.

“We are deeply grateful to the South Korean government for their continued support of The Met’s efforts to showcase Korea’s incredibly rich culture and artistic legacy,” said Max Hollein, Marina Kellen French Director of The Met. “Chung Haecho’s exquisite work is a meaningful addition to our holdings of Korean lacquerware and illustrates how this long-celebrated art form continues to inspire artists today.”

“Various aspects of cultural heritage and contemporary works from Korea can serve as ambassadors of cultural diplomacy,” shared First Lady Kim Jung-sook. “We hope that The Met’s Arts of Korea Gallery continues to be a meaningful space that can convey and deliver the beauty of Korea.”

Mike Hearn, Douglas Dillon Chairman of The Met’s Department of Asian Art, added, “This gift of contemporary lacquer greatly enhances our ability to present a comprehensive narrative about the continued vibrancy of Korean culture. The gift is particularly significant as we look ahead to 2023, when The Met will celebrate the 25th anniversary of our Arts of Korea Gallery."

While most pre-20th century Korean lacquerware is notable for its mother-of-pearl decoration, Chung focuses on the materiality of lacquer itself, specifically of Korean lacquer, called ottchil, and has taken the medium in new directions, particularly in form and color. He experimented for years to create the specific pigments that he adds to the lacquer resin; as a result, his lacquers are especially admired for their color and luster.

The gifted artwork, Rhythm of the Five Color Luster (2013), consists of five vessels whose colors each relate to the traditional Korean color spectrum, called obangsaek. The colors are linked to the cardinal directions and the five elements that are the basis of East Asian cosmology: blue (east, wood), red (south, fire), yellow (center, earth), black (north, water), and white (west, metal). Because white cannot be created with lacquer (ottchil is naturally a deep reddish brown), Chung substituted green for the color white. Thus, the five vessels represent not only a continuation and innovation of the centuries-long lacquer tradition but also of the traditional iconography of color.

Works by Chung are in the collections of The British Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He was also a finalist for the 2019 Loewe Foundation Craft Prize, an international award celebrating excellence in craftsmanship.

The Met plans to display the gifted work in Shell and Resin: Korean Mother-of-Pearl and Lacquer, December 13, 2021–July 5, 2022. Organized by Associate Curator of Korean Art Eleanor Soo-ah Hyun, the presentation will showcase the Museum’s outstanding collection of Korean lacquerware with nearly 30 examples from the 12th century to the present.

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