The preservation of Korea’s modern masterpieces

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The preservation of Korea’s modern masterpieces


A 1899 painting by Hubert Vos (1855-1935) called “Landscape of Seoul.” Provided by the museums

“It was absolutely impossible for anyone to be happy during our time, under the tragic condition of Japanese colonization.”

Byeon Dong-lim (1916-2004), an essayist and art critic, wrote these words in a 1985 essay, underlining the hardship and torment of Korean artists during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

She was married to two of renowned members of the intelligentsia in Korea — Lee Sang (1910-37), a writer, and Kim Whanki (1913-74), a painter. She was also the stepsister of the artist Ku Pon-ung (1906-1953).

Artworks and relics from the so-called modern era of the Korean history are the focus of an exhibit at the National Museum of Contemporary Art’s Deoksu Palace branch in Jung District.

She “Modern Masterpieces from the Museum Collection: Poetry and Dreams” is showcasing some 100 works of 55 artists from Korea’s modern era.

She period between the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the tumultuous time when new ideas were brought in from abroad threatening the traditional way of living, is often referred to as the beginning of the modern era on the Korean Peninsula.


“The Spring Dawn of Mt. Baegak” by An Jung-sik (1861-1919)

In Korea’s case, most of these outside influences were imposed during Japanese colonization.

“The works from the 1900s to 1950s envisioned dreams and paradise despite the weary reality like the collapse of the Joseon Dynasty, Japanese colonization and war,” the museum said.

“The museum will be the place to enjoy masterpieces of Korean modern art and it will also boost support for introductions, research and education.”

Among the works on display is a 1899 painting by Dutch artist Hubert Vos (1855-1935) of Seoul’s downtown called “Landscape of Seoul,” which captures the Gwanghwamun and Gyeongbok Palace area at that time.

The National Museum of Korea in Yongsan District has recently renovated one of its exhibition halls dedicated to the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) to showcase artworks and relics of the modern era.

“It is meaningful that this is the first permanent exhibition in the National Museum of Korea dedicated solely to the modern era,” said Seo Yoon-hee of the museum’s culture and tourism division at a press conference last Friday.

By Kim Hyung-eun []

“Modern Masterpieces from the Museum Collection: Poetry and Dreams” runs until Dec. 2, except between Aug. 27 and Sept. 16; and Oct. 15 and Oct. 30. Admission is free. Go to City Hall Station on subway line Nos. 1 or 2. For more information, visit or call (02)2188-6000.
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