Danish art curator brushes up on Korea

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Danish art curator brushes up on Korea

Most Danes know Korea through Hyundai Motors, Samsung Electronics and the national soccer squad. But few have much exposure to Korea’s artistic culture.
But Joan Hornby isn’t the average Dane.
Ms. Hornby, 64, is the curator for Far East exhibitions at the National Museum of Denmark, where she has worked for 36 years. The museum, which opened its Korea Room in 1966, has about 1,300 Korean artifacts. But Ms. Hornby feels the gallery is not big enough to show everything she wants. The large space afforded the Asian Gallery at the new National Museum of Korea makes Ms. Hornby envious.
She is visiting Korea for the annual workshop for overseas curators of Korean art held by the Korean Foundation and the national museum. This year’s theme is the “Architecture of Korea.”
“Our collection is mostly ceramics from the early Silla Kingdom until the late Joseon Dynasty,” she said. But along with traditional dresses and shaman equipment there is one example of architecture ― a sarangbang, a room used for receiving visitors. The Korean government gave the sarangbang to the museum in 1966.
Ms. Hornby said she particularly likes sanggam celadon from the Goryeo Dynasty, which used different materials inlaid in surface etchings.
The collection of Korean items started by accident she said. “[The museum] obtained two Korean fans in 1853 from a Danish captain, who was in the service of the Dutch East India Company, on Java.” The museum also bought small Buddha figures in Hamburg in the 1900s, and in the 1930s it exchanged objects with the Japanese Imperial Museum in Korea during the colonial period.
The museum expanded its collection in the 1960s, thanks to the late Dr. Kaj Kalbak, who was sent to Korea to build the Scandinavian Medical Center.
“I heard that before going to Korea, he visited the national museum and studied Korean culture,” Ms. Hornby said. He found out the Danish museum only had a small number of Korean objects and decided to buy more during his stay. He brought them to Denmark on the condition that he donates them to the Danish government.
In order to build on cultural relations, the National Museum of Denmark can do a lot, Ms. Hornby said.
The museum tells the historical background of Korean items in depth, and offers the chance for school children to wear Korean traditional dresses. Also they can do calligraphy with Korean brushes to experience a type of living culture.

by Park Sung-ha
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