Archive for 'Korean Art'

Dual Natures in Ceramics: Eight Contemporary Artists from Korea

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“In modern art, as everyone knows, the beauty of deformity is very often emphasized, insisted upon. But how different is Korean deformity. The former is produced deliberately, the latter naturally. Korean work is merely the natural result of the artisan’s state of mind, which is free from dualistic man-made rules.”

– Bernard Leach (1887–1979)

Have you been to San Francisco Airport lately? If so, you’ve probably seen these gorgeous pieces on display while walking to your gate.


Our very own Hyonjeong Kim Han, Associate Curator for Korean art at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, served as a guest curator of Dual Natures in Ceramics; Eight Contemporary Artists from Korea. She explains it best:

“It is extremely exciting to see Korea’s past and present through beautiful ceramics come together at SFO gallery in Terminal 3. It is the first time that the Asian Art Museum and SFO Museum together present Korean art in one of the busiest places in the city.

We live in a world of dual natures, such as departure and arrival; yin and yang; existence and nonexistence; beginning and ending; past and future. I hope people appreciate how the eight Korean artists in the show transcend this duality in our lives and art.”

Duel Natures in Ceramics

Catch this exhibition before it takes off for good on Feb. 22, 2015.


All pictures in this post: Private Collection, Photography courtesy of SFO Museum.

Making Korean Ceramics

When is the last time you saw something creative and beautiful that you just had to share? Last week, I was privileged to visit the California College of Arts to join a ceramics class presenting their final works of the semester. This class consists of students in their first and second years and introduces to them historical ceramic works of art led by their instructor, Erik Scollon. And guess what was chosen as the subject this time around? Korean ceramics! The artworks covered celadon, buncheong, and blue-and-white porcelain—the history of Korean ceramics in one room. I felt like I was entering a gallery space in a museum. From far away, the works these students created looked just like our museum’s collection. Can you recognize any?


It was amazing to see one artwork transform into different pieces of art, showing off these students’ skills and creativity. One work they chose was the Asian Art Museum’s vase decorated with peonies and butterflies. Funny enough, the students used our online collection to view photos but we do not provide an image of the reverse side, meaning they could not see the butterfly! Each student created their own butterfly to decorate the vase. Look at how diverse the results were.


This class really inspired me to learn beyond my art historical background. The students demonstrated for us how two artworks in our collection would have been thrown on the wheel. One artwork would have its foot trimmed out, while the other would be thrown separately and then attached through slipping and scoring.



Many visitors to our museum ask the question, “How was this made?” I’ll admit, many times I don’t know the answer. These students answered many of the questions I had and have heard over the years. What causes the beautiful crackling on the celadon glaze? The answer: Reduction. It occurs when the glaze and clay dry at different rates, the clay drying faster than the glaze. Did you know that cobalt blue is actually a pink powder?



I’d like to share with you some of their works in detail.

Amazing, right? This class is an inspiration for our museum to work harder to display beautiful artworks that can then be interpreted by people today. This hands-on experience was a true privilege and I can’t wait to see what the next semester brings! Thank you to Erik and his wonderful students!


Wrapped up in History

Wrapping cloth (bojagi) with goose motif, approx. 1900. Korea. Embroidered cotton on silk. Gift of Mrs. Chung Hee Kim, 1993.4.

Wrapping cloth (bojagi) with goose motif, approx. 1900. Korea. Embroidered cotton on silk. Gift of Mrs. Chung Hee Kim, 1993.4.

Imagine the lives of Korean women in the Joseon dynasty (1392–1910), a time when strict Confucian society denied women access to education and intellectual pursuits and confined women physically to their own quarters in the household. By day, the housewives carried out their designated tasks: cooking, cleaning, caring for their families. But at night, women gathered the remnants of fabrics to sew and connect with each other, making wrapping cloths known as bojagi. Hyonjeong Kim Han, the Asian Art Museum’s curator of Korean art, describes sewing bojagi as a way for female artisans at the time to “express their pent-up creativity and their deepest desires for their loved ones.”

Bojagi are traditional Korean wrapping cloths, colorful square or rectangular compositions pieced together out of scraps of silk, cotton, hemp or ramie left over from other garments. Bojagi, which are used to cover everything from bedding and tables to food dishes and precious Buddhist sutras, date back to the Three Kingdoms period (57 BCE–668 CE), but the tradition really flourished during the Joseon dynasty. The wrapping cloths were decorative and practical, but they also had religious and symbolic uses: the women who made bojagi at the time infused their hopes and dreams for their families, friends and themselves into the cloth as they sewed.

Wrapping cloth (bojagi), approx. 1950-1960. Korea. Silk with patchwork design. Acquisition made possible by Korean Art and Culture Committee, 2005.73.

Wrapping cloth (bojagi), approx. 1950-1960. Korea. Silk with patchwork design. Acquisition made possible by Korean Art and Culture Committee, 2005.73.

As Youngmin Lee, a contemporary bojagi artist, explains, “The word bo means ‘wrapping happiness or fortune.’” Bojagi helped mothers maintain ties with their daughters, who typically moved in with their husband’s families upon marriage and would rarely see their own families again. “While the women are making bojagi,” Lee says, “they are thinking of their daughters’ happiness, trying to express their love.” Lee is featured in an educational video on bojagi that will be screened at the museum in December.

Daughters often used bojagi until the cloths wore out, and would then make new ones to pass on to their own daughters.

As with so many beautiful functional objects made anonymously by women throughout the ages, bojagi was not recognized as an art form until recently. The Asian Art Museum has played an instrumental role in changing that perception: Dr. Kumja Paik Kim, who preceded Hyonjeong Kim Han at the museum and was the first curator of Korean art in the United States, began acquiring bojagi for the museum’s permanent collection.

“Until 20 years ago, bojagi were not considered an art form because it was purely functional,” Hyonjeong Kim Han says. “Dr. Kumja Paik Kim discovered the beauty of bojagi and regarded it artistically.”

Wrapping cloth (bojagi), 1950-1960. Korea. Patchwork silk. Gift of Mrs. Ann Witter, 1998.57.

Wrapping cloth (bojagi), 1950-1960. Korea. Patchwork silk. Gift of Mrs. Ann Witter, 1998.57.

The Asian Art Museum has more than 30 bojagi pieces, the largest collection of any museum in the United States.

Visitors can see two primary types of bojagi on display: gung-bo, made of lavish silks, were created for royal court use and were often luxuriously embroidered, while min-bo, made and used by common people, were generally patched together and look a bit like modern abstract paintings. Bojagi for weddings and other special occasions were elaborately ornamented.

The museum’s exhibition In Grand Style: Celebrations in
Korean Art during the Joseon Dynasty features a wedding bojagi, traditionally used to wrap the customary gift of a wooden goose presented by the groom to the bride’s mother, who would pair the symbolic goose with a complementary wooden goose. “The bojagi wrapped the two geese, symbolizing the unification of bride and groom and the two families,” Hyonjeong Kim Han explains.

Today bojagi are not only collected by museums but have been revived as an expressive art form by contemporary artists within and outside Korea. “It was a dying art form until recently, but now people realize how precious and beautiful this tradition is,” says Lee, who grew up in Korea and lives in the East Bay. “I think it’s amazing that I can feel the artistic sense of ancient Korean women when I make bojagi myself.”

Wrapping cloth (bojagi), approx. 1900-2000. Korea. Silk. Gift of Chung Hee Kim, 2009.10.

Wrapping cloth (bojagi), approx. 1900-2000. Korea. Silk. Gift of Chung Hee Kim, 2009.10.

The Korean women who created these treasures without recognition at the time are now, many years later, receiving it. The women might not have imagined that their pieced-together wrapping cloths would one day be treasured parts of museum collections, much less inspire artists a century later and far beyond Korea’s shores.

Korean Foundation Korean Culture Day

The term janchi (feast or celebration) is very familiar to Koreans. We hold janchi for a baby’s first birthday and invite families, friends and neighbors. Getting a good grade on a university entrance exam is also for a cause for janchi. For graduations, weddings and housewarmings, we would host janchi. There would be plenty of food, music, colorful dresses and good cheer. Neighbors would come early and help prepare the food. Children would be corralled together to play games, eat, and just be kids.

Korean Foundation Korean Culture Day

When I first pictured the 5th annual KF Korean Culture Day program about a year ago, I imagined the chaotic and hectic janchi of activities I was used to seeing when I was young, with many different things to do for young as well as not so young. For a museum of art and culture, this was also an opportunity to highlight traditions while focusing on the next generation of artists and cultural leaders.

This year, we hosted 2,915 visitors to the museum thanks to the generous support from the Korea Foundation. That’s up 20% from the last year’s attendance (I had my wish of a hectic, crowded day)! A long line snaked through the 1st floor for a tasting of the goldongmyum, a delicious cold noodle dish that used to be a staple of royal palace celebrations in the Joseon dynasty.

Korean Foundation Korean Culture Day performances

There was a standing room only performance of traditional music and dance by students and teachers from Korea’s prestigious art school, Korean National University of Arts.

Korean Foundation Korean Culture Day crafts

Art activities and art demonstrations were popular all day. Families bustled around the AsiaAlive Korean paper making demonstrations with Aimee Lee, and lantern making activities staffed by our amazing volunteers and Art Speak teen interns.

A special lecture by UCLA Professor of History and Director of the Center for Korean Studies, John Duncan, explained impact of Confucian social structures on contemporary Korean life.

Korean Foundation Korean Culture Day tours

Storytellers and docents guided groups through to museum’s collection and the In Grand Style exhibition. They even had to add extra tours in the afternoon due to high demand.

My favorite part of the day was speaking to many visitors about their experience at the museum. My day was made when a visitor stopped me on the way out of the performance and asked “Do you know who worked on this program? Please tell them thank you for providing this incredible chance to see and learn about Korea! Now I have to come back to see it all over again.”

Here’s a video with more highlights:

Staff Picks: Friendly Duck

In this occasional series, museum staff introduce their favorite works from the collection. Objects in our galleries are rotated every six months, so we’ll have a fresh set of picks when new things go on view.

Vessel in the shape of a duck (detail), approx. 200-300.  Korea; ancient region of Gaya. Earthenware. The Avery Brundage Collection, B63P13+.

Vessel in the shape of a duck (detail), approx. 200-300. Korea; ancient region of Gaya. Earthenware. The Avery Brundage Collection, B63P13+.

Larry Oliver

Larry Oliver from admissions chose this darling duck from our Korea galleries.

This charming piece shows how a seemingly simple object can convey the friendly nature of a living creature.






Korean Objects Out on Loan

Sharon contemplating our Moon Jar in the National Museum of Korea's exhibition.

Sharon contemplating our Moon Jar in the National Museum of Korea's exhibition.

I just returned from delivering and overseeing the installation of 10 Asian Art Museum objects to an exhibition at the National Museum of Korea. The exhibition is called Korean Art from the United States and if you find yourself in Seoul between June 5 and August 5 you can see it for yourself.

Staff at the National Museum of Korea prepare our Standing Buddha for display.

Staff at the National Museum of Korea prepare our Standing Buddha for display.

The exhibition highlights the history and importance of Korean art collections in the United States and features Korean treasures  from museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Honolulu Museum of Art, the Harvard Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Brooklyn Museum. For more, check out these reviews from The Korea Times and The Korea Herald.

Although we removed nine of our most precious Korean objects from display for this loan, including our Standing Buddha, the Moon Jar and Tiger jar, we have borrowed five objects from the collections of the National Museum of Korea to replace them. Come and see them soon in the Korean gallery.


Who Let the Dogs Out?

With the close of Poetry in Clay on January 8, the Asian Art Museum’s Korean galleries have once again become a work in progress. A collection of old friends — ceramic and metal works from the museum’s collection — are on their way back.

The reinstalled gallery will re-open this weekend, so be sure to take a moment to revisit your favorite Korean works.

But in addition to works from the collection, we have another treat on view. When the museum opened at Civic Center back in 2003, the Korean artist Cho Duk-Hyun excavated a pack of dogs on museum grounds as part of the Eureka project. Ten of these dogs were later given to the museum. As part of the Korean gallery reinstallation, we’ve let these dogs out of their storage crate for a brief romp. You can check the pups out and watch a video documenting their unearthing starting January 28.

Museum photographer Kaz Tsuruta photographs each dog on its way to the gallery.

Bonus Quiz: There are nine dogs in the gallery but ten in the pack that was given to the museum. Can you guess where doggy number ten is? Put your answer in the comments below.

Curator of Korean Art Hyonjeong Kim Han, registrar Cathy Mano, and exhibition manager Kelly Bennett wrangle Cho Duk-Hyun's dogs into the Korean gallery alcove.