The crown with pendants from Geumgwan-chong (Tomb of the Gold Crown) is one of two Korean National Treasures on display at the Arts of Korea gallery, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. / Courtesy of The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
By Cathy Rose A. Garcia
Two National Treasures from Korea are now on display at a newly-opened gallery dedicated to Korean art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) in Texas.
The Museum of Fine Arts Houston opened the Arts of Korea gallery Saturday, making it the only gallery in the Southwest devoted to Korean traditional and contemporary art. Former U.S. President George H. W. Bush attended the opening ceremony.
On exclusive loan from the National Museum of Korea are two national treasures from the 5th century Silla Kingdom, a crown with pendants (National Treasure no. 87) and a girdle with pendants (National Treasure no. 88). The two rare gold pieces are making their first appearance outside Korea, and can be viewed at the MFAH through January 2008.
The Arts of Korea Gallery presents 5,000 years of cultural history, as well as contemporary art.
MFAH director Peter C. Marzio said the museum's acquisition of Korean contemporary art distinguishes it from other installations. ``This new art stems from the emergence of Korean artists into the global interchange of ideas, and communicates the artists' complex response to their cultural past. Korea's long and distinguished history of traditional art is rarely presented here in the United States, so it is with sincere gratitude that we acknowledge the National Museum of Korea for its loan of so many important examples of traditional Korean art,'' Marzio said.
The Arts of Korea gallery has four thematic sections, ceramics, Buddhist art, women's personal ornaments and contemporary art. Artist Suh Do-ho was commissioned to create an entrance gate to the gallery, which will be completed and installed next year.
The main highlights of the exhibition are the gold crown and girdle, which were both retrieved from Geumgwan-chong (Tomb of the Gold Crown), Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang Province.
The crown is made of sheet gold with stylized tree and antler-shaped elements, which represent the connection between heaven and earth; and the crescent-shaped jade ornaments called ``gogok,'' symbolizes resurrection of life and abundance. The gold girdle measures nearly four feet in length, and is adorned with 17 pendants of model fish, small knives and tassels.
The ceramics display features a 20-inch tall Neolithic comb-pattern vessel, red-burnished jar from the Bronze Age, a turtle-shaped celadon ewer from the Goryeo Kingdom (918-1392) and a porcelain jar with a dragon and cloud design in cobalt blue from the late 18th to 19th century of the Joseon Kingdom.
The Buddhist art exhibit shows how Buddhism has influenced Korean art. On display are figurative sculptures such as a ``Contemplative Bodhisattva'' from the Three Kingdoms period, ``Standing Buddha'' from the Silla period; and objects used in religious rituals such as the late ``Goryeo Ritual Ewer and Buddhist Bell.''
The section on women's personal ornaments and accessories feature intricate decorative pieces such as a Joseon period ornament with amber; an ornament with Jade, which show the unique Korean decorative knot called maedup; a celadon cosmetic case and mother-of-pearl inlaid mirror box.
A selection of contemporary Korean art is also displayed at the Arts of Korea Gallery. Among the notable pieces are Shin Mee-kyoung's large carved Buddha made out of soap; Lee Bul's ``Untitled,'' a dynamic sculpture of wire, crystals and beads; and Atta Kim's ``Series of People, #073,'' from the ``Museum Project'' of a bride and groom in Western clothing in a glass box.
Christine Starkman, MFAH curator of Asian art, said the juxtaposition of traditional art with modern Korean art, recognizes the contribution of Korean artists to the international scene. ``These artists very imaginatively engage with issues of Korean art history, globalization, and the nature of language and translation,'' she said.
The Arts of Korea gallery, which was established with support from the Korea Foundation, is part of MFAH's commitment to Asian art. The museum will open a gallery for Indonesian art in spring 2008, while galleries for Chinese and Japanese art will open in December 2008.
In January, MFAH will hold an exhibition ``Where Clouds Disperse,'' featuring ink paintings of Korean ink painter Suh Se-ok. A major exhibition ``Contemporary Art from Korea,'' co-organized with the Los Angeles Museum of Art, will be held in October 2009.
The MFAH, founded in 1900, is the largest art museum in the Southwest. For information, visit www.mfah.org.