Art of Korea’s Joseon Dynasty to Make American Tour

Exhibit comes to Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Houston 2014
November 23, 2013 Updated: March 5, 2014

NEW YORK—Korean art is having a moment in the United States. Following closely on the heels of the Metropolitan Museum’s exhibit on the Silla kingdom, a three-city traveling exhibit will highlight the arts of the Joseon dynasty.

The tour was announced at the Asia Society in Manhattan on Nov. 18.

The Joseon dynasty (1392–1910) was founded on the principles of Confucianism. It consolidated the territories of today’s Korea (both North and South) and ushered in a period of prosperity before invasions from China and Japan led to an increasingly self-isolating policy. Ultimately, Korea fell to Japanese rule, eventually fracturing into North and South, making Joseon the last Korean dynasty.

Influences from the Joseon dynasty shape the cultural traits of Korean society to this day.

In 150 sets of objects, the exhibit hopes to cover the large themes of Joseon society’s hierarchy, social norms, ancestor rites, Confucianism, Buddhism (which was suppressed by the state but existed as an undercurrent), and westernization.

The objects, originating primarily from the National Museum of Korea, will arrive first at the Philadelphia museum of art in March 2014, then travel to Los Angeles, and finally to Houston.

They include palatial folding screens, illustrated books, costumes, ceramics, and rare Buddhist statuary and paintings.

Because of the fragile nature of the paintings, they cannot be displayed for more than three months at a time, according to curator Hyunsoo Woo. Therefore, each museum will receive different paintings to demonstrate the same theme.

Several of the objects, such as a porcelain jar with a painted bamboo and plum tree design, are designated national treasures by the Korean government.

Getting national treasures out of Korea is no easy task, said Woo. These items are subject to a lengthy committee review process before export rights can be granted.

Museums in the United States have been lent Korean national treasures before. But next year, between the several national treasures currently on display at the Met’s Silla exhibit and the traveling exhibit, Americans have the opportunity to view some of the very best of Korean art.

“The first full fledged Korean exhibition by the National Museum of Korea in the West was ‘5,000 years of Korean Art,’ which traveled to twelve venues in the United States between 1979 and 1980,” said Woo. “But after that it was only every now and then that you [could] see a Korean exhibition [in the U.S.] Next year is really momentous.”


Treasures from Korea: Arts and Culture of the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910)
Philadelphia Museum of Art: March 2–May 26, 2014
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art: June 29–Sept. 28, 2014
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston: Nov. 2, 2014–Jan. 11, 2015