Museum of Fine Arts Houston announce Arts of Korea Reinstallation

The Museum of Fine Arts Houston have announced the Arts of Korea gallery at the MFAH will be reinstalled with 43 new, exclusive loans of ancient Korean works of art, primarily from the National Museum of Korea and the AMOREPACIFIC Museum of Art in Seoul, Korea. Opening to the public on Thursday, March 29, it remains the only museum space in the Southwest devoted to Korean art. The majority of the loans will be displayed for the next two years alongside the contemporary Korean works from the museum’s collection that will remain on view, showcasing some 5,000 years of visual culture in Korea. Min Byoungchan, Head of the Special Exhibition Department at the National Museum of Korea, will present a lecture March 28 (the day before the opening).


Korea, Three Buddhas from the Past, Present, and Future, 14th century, gilt bronze, National Museum of Korea.

The permanent gallery dedicated to Korean art was the first in a suite of five Arts of Asia gallery installations to open at the MFAH in the last five years. The inaugural, 2007 presentation featured loans from the National Museum of Korea as the basis of the installation. After four years in Houston, these treasures are now returning home, exchanged for 43 new, two-year loans from the National Museum of Korea, including ancient vessels, statues and jewelry. Three additional works will be included from AMOREPACIFIC Museum of Art, an institution that shares the vision of the MFAH Asian Art Department in the display of ancient works alongside works by international contemporary artists. A special private loan will complete the updated display, offering a whole new range of ancient Korean art works for the public to discover.

The incoming loans feature pottery and metalwork from the Three Kingdoms and the Unified Silla (57 B.C. – A.D. 935); Buddhist figurative sculptures, a bell and celadon ware made during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392); and works of art created during the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910), including white porcelain jars and hardier stoneware called buncheong.

A highlight of the display is a Buddhist painting—a rare work not usually loaned out—on view at the MFAH until just May 6. Eastern Paradise of Bhaisajyaguru was painted with ink on silk in 1828, Joseon period, and depicts the eastern pure land of Bhaisajyaguru Buddha. This particular Buddha is depicted carrying a bowl of medicine as his symbol, as he is renowned for healing diseases and eliminating calamities. The painting was originally enshrined in the main building of the Jungheungsa temple on Mt. Bukhan.

A nineteenth-century dragon jar from the private collection of Dr. Yi Song-Mi has special significance, as it will be displayed in memory of Dr. Peter C. Marzio (1943­­–2010), the former director of the MFAH who initiated the Arts of Asia expansion. Song-Mi, the wife of the then-Ambassador for Korea to the United States, arranged for Marzio’s visit to Korea in 2004 (through the support of the Korea Foundation), which led to the opening of the Arts of Korea gallery at the MFAH. The white porcelain jar features a cobalt-blue dragon painted in under-glaze. The dragon symbolized the king and absolute power; these types of jars were therefore used as ritual implements in displaying the authority of the royal house.

Portal Project
Completing the Arts of Korea gallery will be a site-specific commission by Do Ho Suh, which is projected to be installed in the late fall of 2012. Suh’s piece will be a large-scale model of a gate designed by his father, the artist Suh Seok, which in turn was based off of a 17th-century traditional Korean gate. The installation will be cast in transparent acrylic resin; fabrication will begin the first week of April. This commission will be one of several contemporary, site-specific installations, known as the “Portal Project,” in the Arts of Asia galleries. The first of these works was Cai Guo-Qiang’s Odyssey: a monumental, ethereal landscape, created with gunpowder, which lines the four walls of the Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Arts of China Gallery and is currently on view.

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