Powerhouse unveils 'Five Hundred Arhats of Changnyeongsa Temple'

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Powerhouse unveils 'Five Hundred Arhats of Changnyeongsa Temple'
Installation view.

SYDNEY.- The Powerhouse has unveiled its major summer exhibition, Five Hundred Arhats of Changnyeongsa Temple.

The arhats are ancient stone figures discovered in 2001-02 among the ruins of the Changnyeongsa Temple in South Korea’s Gangwon-do Province, believed to have been built during Goryeo dynasty (918-1392) and destroyed in mid Joseon dynasty (1392-1879). The stone statues depict ‘arhats’ - ‘nahan’ in Korean - known in Buddhism as one who has attained enlightenment. The arhats represent five hundred disciples of the Buddha who gathered to compile his words into scriptures after the Buddha entered nirvana. Although they have attained enlightenment, they defer entering nirvana themselves and remain in their human state in order to teach and save sentient beings.

The stone arhats have been carefully restored by Chuncheon National Museum of Korea and were first presented at the Museum in 2018, followed by National Museum of Korea in 2019, becoming Korea’s most popular exhibition that year.

The exhibition at Powerhouse coincides with and celebrates the 60th Anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Korea and Australia, and marks the first time the arhats have been seen outside Korea.

The multi-faceted exhibition presents 50 stone arhats and one Buddha in an immersive environment designed by Korean artist Kim Seung Young. A major work consisting of a tower made up of more than 1000 audio speakers surrounded by an urban soundscape by sound designer Oh Yoonseok, presents arhats as if meditating in an attitude of intimate, reclusive poise amidst a cacophony that evokes the distracting bustle of urban life.

Five Hundred Arhats of Changnyeongsa Temple is the final exhibition to be presented at Powerhouse Ultimo for 2021.

Powerhouse Chief Executive Lisa Havilah said: “Five Hundred Arhats was Korea’s most popular exhibition in 2019 and the Powerhouse is thrilled to present this incredible exhibition outside of Korea for the first time, providing our audiences a unique opportunity to engage with Korean culture. This is the final exhibition to be presented in our 2021 exhibition program, a year in which 10 new exhibitions have launched at the museum. This is the first time the Powerhouse has launched this many new exhibitions together since the opening of the Ultimo building in 1988.”

Curator of Five Hundred Arhats, Min-Jung Kim said: “Unlike images of the Buddha or bodhisattvas, the arhats from Changnyeongsa Temple resemble ordinary people, yet their childlike simplicity and spiritual aura touch our hearts and teach us that we can all be enlightened beings. This exhibition presents the beauty created by unknown Korean craftsmen in the distant past, together with an innovative contemporary Korean artist.”

Chuncheon National Museum Director, Kim Woollim said: “It is an honour to introduce Korea’s Arhats of Changnyeongsa Temple to Australia on the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of Korea-Australia diplomatic ties. Although the expressions of the arhats are plain and simple, they have a mysterious power that touches the human heart. We hope that the arhats will soothe tired minds and that the day when Korea and Australia can meet in person, comes as soon as possible.”

Contemporary artist Kim Seung Young said: “It is an honour to introduce the installation in Australia, designed in collaboration with the Five Hundred Arhats exhibition. I hope that the arhats’ candid gamut of expressions and emotions provides a means to break down any emotional walls that may be built up in the hearts of visitors.”

Following the reopening of the museum on Monday 11 October 2021, the Powerhouse has now unveiled eight new exhibitions: Eucalyptusdom, Robert Rosen: Glitterati, Clay Dynasty, Electric Keys, Graphic Identities, Microcars, Invisible Revealed and Five Hundred Arhats of Changnyeongsa Temple.


Eucalyptusdom reckons with our cultural history and ever-changing relationship with the gum tree, from the relationship between eucalypts and Indigenous Australians, the significance of the Federation arts and crafts movement to the human impact on the eucalypt today. The exhibition also reveals the Powerhouse Museum’s unique and longstanding relationship with the eucalypt.

Eucalyptusdom presents over 400 objects from the Powerhouse Collection alongside 17 newly commissioned works by creative practitioners working across the fields of design, architecture, film, applied arts and performance. Artists presenting new work include Nicole Barakat and the Rohingya Women’s Development Organisation, Dean Cross, Julie Gough, First Nations Fashion and Design, Ashley Hay, Vera Hong, Jonathan Jones and Dr Uncle Stan Grant Snr AM, Nicholas Mangan, Anna May Kirk, Luna Mrozik-Gawler, Jazz Money, Lucy Simpson, Yasmin Smith, Wukun Wanambi, Sera Waters, Damien Wright and Bonhula Yunupingu and Justine Youssef. The exhibition has been designed collaboratively by Australian architect Richard Leplastrier AO, SJB architects, Jack Gillmer and Adam Haddow, and Vania Contreras, with an accompanying soundscape composed by Jane Sheldon and lighting design by Nick Schlieper.

Robert Rosen: Glitterati

Over four decades, Robert Rosen attended glittering parties, concerts, fashion events and nightclubs across Australia, London and Europe, capturing the rich, famous and fabulous for the fashion and social pages of an array of newspapers and magazines. Defying the perceived image of the pushy, intrusive paparazzi, his polite and discrete approach earned him the respect and trust of his subjects. Carrying two or three cameras around his neck, with a glass of champagne in hand, he became a fixture in the social scene and captured intimate portraits that conveyed the mood and energy of the times.

Glitterati presents over 970 photographs including images from Rosen’s early career in London and Paris capturing the fashion shows of iconic designers like Yves Saint Laurent, Claude Montana and Zandra Rhodes. In Australia, Rosen brought a new perspective to the fashion pages with his backstage photos at Australian Fashion Week and documented celebrities, politicians and entertainers at parties, openings, launches and events from the exclusive Cointreau Ball to the ARIA Awards. He collaborated with those at the centre of creative culture during iconic moments and documented an eclectic mix of international and Australian celebrities. These include Paul McCartney, Bryan Ferry CBE, Elle McPherson, Peter Morrissey, Divine, Paul Capsis, Nina Simone, Boy George, Yves Saint Laurent, Andy Warhol, Grace Jones, Kylie Minogue, Nicole Kidman, Luciano Pavarotti, Lady Sonia McMahon, Elton John and Michael Hutchence.

Electric Keys

Electric Keys showcases over 20 keyboards from the Powerhouse collection, surveying the journey of electric keyboards and the instrument's contribution to music. Mechanical instruments dating from the 17th Century are presented alongside the Museum’s recently-acquired collection of mid-20th century models and a collection of significant synthesisers to explore modern keyboard development and its influence on the genres of soul jazz, blues, funk, rock, progressive rock to pop and hip-hop. Highlight objects on display include the Powerhouse’s oldest instrument, a Virginal plucked string keyboard with a compass of 4 octaves made in Italy in 1629; a 1974 electric piano ‘Wurlitzer 200A’, as heard performed by the Queen bassist John Deacon in You’re My Best Friend; and a 1982, Roland SH-101 monophonic synthesizer, producing the iconic baseline in Sweet Dreams by the 1980 pop duo Eurythmics (Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart).

Clay Dynasty

Bringing together works from 160 Australian artists, Clay Dynasty presents more than 400 works from the Powerhouse collection, featuring 70 new works from Australian artists.

Surveying over 50 years of practice as shaped by three generations of makers, the exhibition features works by pioneer potters who profoundly changed the course of Australian studio ceramics in the 1960s. Led by the English potter Bernard Leach’s interest in pre-industrial ceramic traditions of Europe and East Asia, they made uniquely Australian objects by using local materials and responding to the Australian environment. Objects from the 1970s will illustrate the impact of American Funk art movement and popular culture in Australia, while works from the 1980s will reveal how Australian artists explored the vessel tradition through postmodern forms, colours and patterns.

Highlights from the Museum’s collection include ground-breaking works by Marea Gazzard AM, Gwyn Hanssen Pigott OAM, Margaret Dodd, Joan Grounds and a rare collection of the pottery made by Indigenous Australian artists in 1968–74 at the Bagot Pottery in Darwin, Northern Territory.

Highlighting contemporary artists who are at the forefront of the medium today, Clay Dynasty showcases new works from across Australia. Commissioned by Powerhouse in 2020-21, artists presenting include Gamilaroi artist Penny Evans; South Australian artist Honor Freeman; Brisbane artist Nicolette Johnson; National Art School (Sydney) trained artist Juz Kitson; accomplished Tiwi ceramist and woodcarver Jock Puautjimi; National Art School lecturer Ebony Russell; London-based sculptor Renee So; Vipoo Srivilasa and Queensland-based artist Kenji Uranishi.

Alongside commissioned works, Clay Dynasty will present works recently acquired by the Powerhouse, including works by internationally renowned Western Australian artist Pippin Drysdale; Head of Ceramics at the National Art School Lynda Draper; Luritja/Pintupi painter and ceramic artist Kunmanara Carroll; Sydney-based artist Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran; Rona Panangka Rubuntja, award-winning artist and member of Hermannsburg Potters; Pitjanjatjara/Yankunytjatjara senior artist Carlene Thompson at Ernabella (Pukatja) Arts and contemporary potter Roswitha Wulff.

Graphic Identities

Graphic Identities presents work by eight celebrated 20th century designers Gordon Andrews, Douglas Annand, Frances Burke, Dahl Collings, Shirley de Vocht, Pieter Huveneers (Tooth and Co), Arthur Leydin and Alistair Morrison. The design archives from the Powerhouse collection reflect a wide range of disciplines and pre-digital media used by the designers across advertising, publishing, fine art and textiles. The designers drew inspiration from Australian flora and fauna, as well as local and international collaborations, working alongside artists such as Bauhaus designer Lászlo Moholy-Nagy and painter Russell Drysdale AC. Charting pivotal moments in the history of Australian design, Graphic Identities explores the role of visual communication in shaping Australia’s cultural identity.


Microcars presents 17 cars manufactured across Europe, Japan, the UK and Australia, charting the rise of the small automobiles in the late 1940s and examining the resurgence of contemporary hybrid microcars today.

The exhibition features microcars from the Powerhouse Collection and loans from notable Australian collectors. Highlights on display include the Messerschmitt KR200, created by the German aircraft manufacturer in 1955. Labelled “Kabinenroller” translating to Cabin Scooter the design was inspired by a fighter aircraft cockpit and the model ignited the attention for microcars overseas. American musician Elvis Presley famously purchased a KR200, with the car on display in the exhibition used in Baz Luhrmann’s forthcoming Elvis biopic. The Zeta Runabout, one of less than 400 ever made by Lightburn and Co, a company known for wheelbarrows and washing machines.

Three models by Buckle Motors, the Goggomobil Dart, Goggomobil Coup and the extremely rare Goggomobil Carryall demonstrate a unique Australian compact car, inspired by the Bavarian company Hans Glas GmbH.

Contemporary electric and hybrid microcars including the Renault Twizzy and Mercedes Benz Smartcar highlight a recent resurgence of the microcars in Europe as a sustainable alternative to large petrol engine vehicles.

The Invisible Revealed

The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) uses a combination of its state-of-the-art nuclear reactor, synchrotron and other particle accelerator based technologies to scan artefacts from the Powerhouse Collection. These world-class facilities are providing insights into how these artefacts were manufactured, and how they can be better conserved for future generations, by revealing their atomic- and microscopic-level structures and composition.

This exhibition illustrates the discoveries of these age-old artefacts made using ANSTO’s scientific instruments by presenting a selection of the original artefacts alongside computer-generated 3D (tomographic) visualisations and other imagery that reveal their structural secrets. Scale models and details of the sophisticated ANSTO facilities are exhibited to give an appreciation of the achievements of Australia’s diverse scientific and technical talent. To date, collaborative studies have been completed on items such as four Samurai swords spanning the period 1346–1800, a Chinese Shang dynasty (1600–1046 BCE) bronze wine vessel and three Tibetan Buddhist sculptures (1200–1600 CE).

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