Review: “Lineages: Korean Art” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Review: “Lineages: Korean Art” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Korean art is surprisingly hard to find in New York City. That’s why “Lineages: Korean Art at the Met,” which runs through October 20 of next year, is such an important group show to see. Beyond the K-pop craze and Seoul, which has recently been dubbed the next up-and-coming style capital—thanks to Seoul Fashion Week—it traces the historic roots of the pop culture we see today on social media.

A collaged painting featuring three men in jeans squatting before a wall of ripped postersA collaged painting featuring three men in jeans squatting before a wall of ripped posters
Lee Jong-gu, ‘Earth at Oziri (Oziri People)’. National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea(MMCA)

But as for calling it an exhibition? It’s more of a cube, really. The entire show encompasses just one small room in the Asian wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which here explores Korean art from the 12th Century to the present day in just thirty pieces. Not that size necessarily equates with significance.

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“Lineages” was created to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the museum’s Arts of Korea Gallery, which was founded in 1998, though the museum has been collecting Korean art since 1889, when it purchased eight musical instruments, followed by more than 200 pieces of Asian ceramics. The Korean art collection at the museum grew with Buddhist paintings and ink scrolls. Contemporary artworks, like prints by Nam June Paik sit alongside 16th-century landscapes of mountains and waterfalls.

“The significance of the Arts of Korea gallery cannot be overstated,” said Eleanor Soo-ah Hyun, a curator of Korean Art at The Met, at the press conference for the show. “The gallery provides a platform not only to showcase Korean art through groundbreaking exhibitions but also to develop and increase the presence of Korean art and culture in The Met through acquisitions and public programming.”

A painting of a women wearing a lab coat surrounded by scientific instrumentsA painting of a women wearing a lab coat surrounded by scientific instruments
Lee Yootae, ‘A pair of figures – Inquiry’. National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea(MMCA)

There are four themes in “Lineages”: lines, things, places and people.

The Places section includes works from the Joseon Dynasty, which ran from 1392 to 1897, and even Paradise, a Paik Nam-soon folding screen from 1936 that captures the lush landscape with mountains and lakes. People includes a portrait of a woman scientist Lee Yootae, from 1944, seated in a lab, and Park Soo-keun’s Tree and Two Women from 1962, which feels like Seoul in a chilly winter. There’s also a 20th-century, fashion-forward portrait of a woman wearing a red robe, painted by an unknown artist, that captures the peace of a seated portrait.

Lines is devoted to the calligraphic line, something deeply embedded in Asian art with the calligraphy brush and ink painting. Beyond the written word, it’s a gestural line that’s been used to capture bamboo leaves and sticks, not to mention abstract works that lift from historic calligraphic traditions. And the Things section focuses mainly on sculpture. It includes historic ceramics by Korean artists like Goryeo and Joseon works like vases and moon jars, among other objects.

An installation behind glass of various sculptural objectsAn installation behind glass of various sculptural objects
Installation view of ‘Lineages: Korean Art at The Met’. Photo by Paul Lachenauer, courtesy of The Met

But if there’s one feature of this exhibition that pulls it together, it’s the stunning selection of abstract paintings. On one wall, there’s a Suh Se Ok ink painting called People that calls to mind a pattern of mountains. Another is minimalist artist Lee Ufan’s 1979 painting, From Line, which uses a blue calligraphic line to create a series of downward stripes on a canvas. The lead image you see on the exhibition poster is an untitled painting from 1984 by Kwon Young-woo, who left an opening at the center of this piece, which is made of blue ink and gouache on Korean paper. There are also two paintings, paired together like a diptych, by Byron Kim from 1996: Goryeo Green Glaze #1 and #2, simple canvases of color that look like Pantone strips.

The show is likely called “Lineages” because it traces current pop culture to its roots in art history. “In featuring modern Korean art in this exhibition, The Met is highlighting areas to develop and future pathways to pursue,” added Soo-ah Hyun.

A painted folding screen featuring a landscape with mountains and a riverA painted folding screen featuring a landscape with mountains and a river
Paik Nam-soon, ‘Paradise’. National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea(MMCA)

 

“Lineages” at the Met Explores Present-Day Korean Culture by Tapping into the Past



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