Gyeongbok museum goes all-out before big move

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Gyeongbok museum goes all-out before big move

He sits on a pedestal with his right leg crossed over his left. His eyes are closed; he wears a gentle smile. His fingers are touching his cheek, as if to imitate someone in agony.
Yet overall, his appearance is too subtle. Though there is a tinge of self-consciousness in his pose, he is not nearly as dramatic or narcissistic as some of the images seen in Western figurative sculptures, such as Rodin’s “Thinker.”
This golden statue of a crowned prince, presumably dating to the sixth-century Silla Dynasty, is supposed to portray the young Buddha in a state of contemplation about issues of the secular world: disease, death, loneliness, poverty.
Through Oct. 17, the National Museum of Korea at Seoul’s Gyeongbok Palace will display two of the most important collections of Korean art. Next to the golden statue, there is a similar sculpture made a century later that bears a remarkable resemblance to a wooden sculpture of Buddha in Kyoto, Japan’s most prized national treasure.
At least, that is what the experts say.
It’s an experience in itself to watch the pair of Buddha statues sitting side by side in a museum hall, bathed in dramatic lighting. These images show many typical features of a slender, elegant Korean-style sculpture.
Originally, the spacious sculpture hall at the National Museum was home to one grand statue of Buddha. But some of the larger pieces that were part of the museum’s permanent collection were sent to a new building in Yongsan-dong as part of the planned move there of the Gyeongbok Palace museum collection in October.
Now the room is designed to focus exclusively on this pair.
In other rooms, the museum has displayed other important art works to celebrate the final exhibit of the museum’s permanent collection before it moves.
There is a special display of paintings from the Joseon Dynasty, which will take up an entire section of the new museum. A thorough display of folk paintings by renowned Joseon-era painters like Kim Hong-do, Gang Hee-an and Shin Yun-bok will be featured periodically.
Among them, a book of paintings by Danwon, the pen name of Kim Hong-do, includes some of his most precious series of paintings, such as the “school” paintings and the “wrestling” paintings.
A painting of Dharma by Kim Myeong-guk, who was known for bold brush strokes and simplified details, is a fine example of the non-mainstream art of the Joseon Dynasty, created by working-class artists who had not undergone rigorous academic training.
There is also a separate section on royal art, mostly screens used during state events and major banquets. Though it’s difficult to detect the unique artistic sensibilities of an individual artist in this genre ― most works were commissioned by royal authorities under strict guidelines ― royal paintings nicely illustrate popular ideas or religious notions of the ancient period.
The highlight of this show is the museum’s collection of some of the most popular paintings from the Joseon era. This includes a mix of genres, such as paintings of longevity symbols that were used to decorate palace walls and rough drawings by commoners.


by Park Soo-mee

The display of the permanent collection at the National Museum of Korea runs through Oct. 17. For more information call (02) 2077-9194.
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