Korean Art Past and Present

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Explore connections between contemporary Korean art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and works from the National Museum of Korea.

AN ARTIST'S EYE: SUH SE OK 
Over his 60-year career, Suh Se Ok has incorporated his traditional training with his Modernist sensibility to create dynamic works that embody his artistic vision. He has been especially intrigued by the figurative form, which he continued to simplify until it evolved into powerful linear gestures.

This early Korean stoneware storage jar was delicately decorated with vertical lines organized in defined registers. During firing, ash from the kiln melded with the body, highlighting the surface texture.

Moon Jars ("dal-hangari") were made by joining two clay hemispheres. The resulting form is organic and reminiscent of the waxing and waning moon.

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Suh Se Ok strives to engage the tradition of ink painting with a Modernist sensibility. His abstract works seem paradoxical because, even as they appear to be breaking away from tradition, he employs the traditional tools of ink, brush, and mulberry paper. His decisive yet unrestrained use of the ink brush creates a rhythmic quality in the painting, as well as spontaneity and exuberance in every dot, dash, and line.

POSITIVE PRESENCE
The artistic creative process that not only references the past, but also develops new mediums, technology, and concepts, has always defined Korean art. The intense dialogue between historic and contemporary art attests to Korea’s rich visual history. 

This 15th-century blue and white porcelain jar is decorated with a spirited dragon, a symbol of the royal family.

The dragon jar ("yong jun") also features a stylized cloud or “mushroom of longevity” pattern ("yeouidu-mun") that symbolizes long life.

Contemporary artist Kim Beom is best known for his transformations of simple materials into visually compelling images. This jar represents Kim’s vision of a dragon jar.

The scaly spinosaurus, stylized clouds, and border decorations are drawn in blue ballpoint pen, demonstrating the artist’s sensitivity to material and color.

Buddhism reached its height during the Unified Silla period (676-935). The Medicine Buddha, the Buddha of healing, holding a medicine jar in his right hand, stands on a stylized lotus base. The lotus is a symbol of the Pure Land, a celestial realm, where enlightened souls are reborn.

The sculpture depicts the Historical Buddha as the young prince Siddhartha meditating on the suffering of the world.

The figure in "Karma Juggler" simultaneously creates and captures the swirling concentric circles that represent karma, the Buddhist force created by a person’s actions. In a manner similar to "Contemplative Bodhisattva," Do Ho Suh meditates upon his existence emerging from all others that came before him.

COMMUNITY VOICES
Contemporary art continues to challenge the boundaries of established icons by seeking new methods to create strong reflections of contemporary society and culture. 

Gimhongsok’s satiric series "Public Blank" is a proposal for a new concept of public art that mocks the staid and empty function of most existing civic monuments made for the public—monuments that are, in reality, utilized by few.


From The Park of Atonement

"There are certain people in the world who long for rainstorms because none exist... Although the disappearance of rainstorms is a natural phenomenon, it tends to happen more quickly in places marked by severe and artificially wrought histories... Thus the places that have been affected by this mindset have such a plenitude of material objects and institutions so as to have negatively affected peoples’ emotional states, and it is at that moment that people begin to long for their difficult pasts... Even though the rainstorm created in the space is not real, it is possible that one might start to cry while standing along under the rain or depending on the water pressure, one might even start to believe that one’s sins can be washed away."

Hear Randy Sim, chairman of the Korean American Society of Houston.

From Meeting Plaza:

"This Meeting Plaza is intended as a social space for those who have a fear of meeting other people or have a pessimistic view when it comes to meeting others. Since a small budget is required for this plaza, the project first requires receiving the consent of the local community. First, and old building that is on the verge of collapse is bought, following an agreement with local residents... The rubble from the building is to be left behind following the demolition, save such dangerous parts as exposed pipes, broken glass and sharp pieces of concrete, which are to be removed or crushed up... One can naturally strike up a conversation as others adjust their postures to regain their balance, by saying that the reason one has to strike this awkward posture is because of the way the plaza is shaped, thus using it as an excuse to start up a dialogue."

Hear Randy Sim, chairman of the Korean American Society of Houston.

Cho Duck-Hyun re-creates vintage photographs in his large-scale charcoal and graphite drawings. This print is based upon a photograph of a Korean couple taken during the 1930s or 1940s, a period when foreign fashions were in vogue. The artist’s desire to connect a moment of Korea’s history to the present manifests in the bride’s long veil emerging from the pictorial plane.

Hear from Houston artist Chong Ok.

Learn about the bride and groom and what they are wearing.

Hear from Houston artist Chong Ok.

Learn about the artist's process and connections to Korean clothing.

Hear from Houston artist Chong Ok.
Credits: Story

This exhibition is part of the Portal to Korea project at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, generously supported by the National Museum of Korea.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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