Unidentified Academic/Court Painter, Mountain Landscape with a Donkey-Riding Scholar and Attendant, 16th century, Hanging scroll, brush and ink on silk. Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago, Purchase, Paul and Miriam Kirkley Fund for Acquisitions, 2012.2.
Standing Bodhisattva detail, late 16th/early 17th c.
Smart Museum of Art
5550 South Greenwood Avenue
From the Land of the Morning Calm:
Traditions of Korean Art
July 5-September 9, 2012
University of Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art presents rare and exquisite works from its collection of Korean art in the special exhibition From the Land of the Morning Calm: Traditions of Korean Art. Organized around the themes of craft, Buddhism, scholarly art, and modernity, the exhibition explores Korea’s unique cultural heritage from the Bronze Age to the present day.
From the Land of the Morning Calm is the first major exhibition to focus on the Smart’s wide-ranging collection of Korean art, which has expanded from a core of ceramic ware from the Goreyo and Joseon dynasties to include a diverse representation of the classical, traditional, and modern arts of Korea. The exhibition features nearly 50 objects in a variety of media — calligraphy, ceramic, metalwork, painting, and sculpture — and includes kinds of works that are rarely found in public collections outside of Asia.
From the Land of the Morning Calm is curated by Richard A. Born, Smart Museum Senior Curator. Richard will give a closing-day tour on September 9 and the exhibition is accompanied by several performances, talks and other programs that explore elements of Korean culture in depth.
Over thousands of years, traditional Korean society has forged a distinct artistic heritage out of a blend of foreign ideals and local tastes. Korea’s expansive coastline and geographic position in Asia encouraged an outward focus, and Korean history is marked by periods of intense cultural, technological, and religious exchange with China and Japan (and more recently, the West).
“In the cultural spheres of East Asia, Korea served historically as the recipient, innovator, and transmitter of artistic forms and styles,” notes curator Richard Born. Korea’s arts were praised by foreign visitors, given as valued tribute to the courts of China and Japan, and eagerly traded for export. In the process, they exerted an influential cultural force abroad. These inter-regional connections — among rulers and their courts, traders, and ordinary people — span from the earliest Bronze Age kingdoms of Korea to the great cultural flowerings of the Goryeo (918-1392) and Joseon (1392-1910) dynasties. More recently, in the last decades of the twentieth century, Korea positioned itself within the international art world.
From the Land of the Morning Calm offers a focused look at key components of this complex history of cross-cultural exchange and assimilation. Highlights include several pieces that are new to the Smart’s collection, some of which will be on view for the first time. One such work is a rare, refined wooden Bodhisattva altar statue from the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century — one of only half a dozen or so standing figures like it, and the only example of its kind known outside of Korea. Another is an evocative late eighteenth-century ink painting in colorful mineral pigments, ink, and gold, Indra and Heavenly Dragon General, that reveals the novel subjects and syncretistic nature of Korean Buddhism by incorporating influences from India, Tibet, and China, as well as local shamanist forms.
On the contemporary end of the spectrum, Yeesookyung’s 2007 sculpture Translated Vases, which re-works fragments of traditional-style Korean ceramics into an unconventional new form, exemplifies the themes of tradition, redefinition, and renewal that are at the heart of the exhibition.
Together, these and other exquisite works offer visitors a unique opportunity to discover the riches of Korea’s artistic heritage.
Three Kingdoms period, Silla kingdom (313–668), Pedestalled Jar, 5th/6th century, Unglazed stoneware with impressed and combed decoration and natural ash. Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago, Gift of Brooks McCormick Jr., 1999.13.
Yeesookyung, Translated Vases, 2007.