Under scrutiny, an ambitious lineup : National Museum of Korea plans a year focused on craftwork

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Under scrutiny, an ambitious lineup : National Museum of Korea plans a year focused on craftwork


Left: A 12th-century gilt-silver cup from Korea’s Three Kingdoms Period (57 B.C.-A.D. 668). Right: Iron armor from Gaya, a confederacy of territories in southern Korea between the first and sixth centuries. [NATIONAL MUSEUM OF KOREA]

The National Museum of Korea embarks on the new year with challenges ahead.

For starters, the Culture Ministry under which it operates is still reeling from the unprecedented political scandal that unfolded last year.

The museum was also in the news regarding the scandal that involves President Park Geun-hye and her confidante Choi Soon-sil. In March of last year, Kim Young-na abruptly resigned from the director’s post. Allegations say that she was disapproved by President Park because she opposed holding an exhibition on French jewelry and craft at the museum, which was an idea of Park. Further allegations surfaced that the exhibition was Choi’s idea.

The museum’s longtime efforts to boost the number of foreign visitors and to improve the state of national museums outside Seoul have yet to bear fruit. The museum also started to remain open through the whole week, without any closing days, from October despite opposition.

That is why when the National Museum of Korea announced to journalists on Jan. 23 its plans for the new year, they were put under harsher scrutiny than ever before. The keywords for the museum’s exhibitions this year appear to be “iron” and “buttons.”


From left: A statue from around 4,000 B.C. from Saudi Arabia; French outfits from late 18th century; a 17th century vessel-shaped cup from Dresden [NATIONAL MUSEUM OF KOREA]

Iron in history

One of the major exhibitions at the museum will be one on iron. The exhibition, which will run from Sept. 26 to Nov. 26, will delve into the history of iron and its culture in Korea. Naturally, it takes visitors all the way back to Korea’s prehistoric era and from there to the modern times.

About 200 artifacts will be on display, including a rare set of iron armor from Gaya, a confederacy of territories in southern Korea between the first and sixth centuries.

From May 13 to July 9, there will be a rare chance to see items that were designated as “National Treasures” and “Treasures” between 2014 and 2016. The 50 pieces on display will include a graceful 12th-century gilt-silver cup.

Around Buddha’s birthday on May 3, there will also be a show of large Buddhist scroll paintings. Known as goebul, such paintings were used at outside rituals or events. They measure as long as ten meters (33 feet).

Foreign cultures

Regarding the exhibition on French wardrobe, slated to be held between May 30 and Aug. 15, Yi Young-hoon, the museum’s director, emphasized that the exhibition is not a rehash of the controversial exhibition on French jewelry and craft that Park and Choi allegedly pushed for.

The exhibition, Yi said, will shed light on the history of modern and contemporary French clothing - from the 18th century to the mid 20th-century - particularly through buttons.

Other exhibitions that will be held in collaboration with foreign institutions and that will introduce foreign cultures include: The exhibition on Arabian history (May 9-Aug. 27), the first of its kind in Korea; the show on Dresden’s history and culture through (Sept. 19-Nov.12) through the collection of Augustus II the Strong (1670-1733); and the exhibition on French art between the 17th century to early 20th century through the collection of Russia’s State Hermitage Museum.

BY KIM HYUNG-EUN [hkim@joongang.co.kr]

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