Joseon-era art gets modern touch : Kansong exhibit brings dynamic genre paintings to life with the help of technology

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Joseon-era art gets modern touch : Kansong exhibit brings dynamic genre paintings to life with the help of technology


Above: Media artist Lee Lee-nam’s new projection media inspired by Gyeomjae Jeong Seon’s painting of “Danbalryeong Mangeumgang.” At top right, Gyeomjae’s “Geumgang Naesan” depicting the 12,000 peaks of Mount Geumgang. He also painted the mountain on a folding fan, bottom right, which was so famous that it was depicted in Hyewon Sin Yun-bok’s genre painting of “A Shaministic Ritual,” center right. [SEOUL DESIGN FOUNDATION]

A gisaeng, or female courtesan, and seonbi, a Joseon-era scholar, are embracing each other by a stone wall under the moonlight. A misty haze veils them for a while, but the moonlight soon reveals the two lovers’ secret encounter. Another woman, who is visibly blushing and leaning against the other corner of the wall, sneaks a look at the couple. This is the scene from the renowned genre painting “A Secret Meeting in the Moonlight,” included in the 30-leaf “Album of Genre Paintings” by Sin Yun-bok (born 1758), also known by his pen name Hyewon, one of the great artists of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).

The genre paintings in this album, National Treasure No. 135, which depict the everyday life of the ordinary citizens of Hanyang (Seoul’s former name) during his time are like stills from a movie, said Tak Hyun-gyu, a researcher from the Kansong Art Museum.

“All his paintings are so dynamic that although they are still images, it’s easy for the viewers to imagine them as moving images,” Tak said, adding that this great Joseon-era painter would’ve been a great film director if he was born in the present day.

Then why not turn them into moving images so that Korea’s old paintings can be appreciated by younger audiences?

That’s what the Kansong Art and Culture Foundation did.

Titled “Drawn by the Wind,” the foundation and the Seoul Design Foundation kicked off a joint exhibition on Nov. 24 at the Design Museum inside the Dongdaemun Design Plaza in central Seoul, showcasing not only original paintings from Korea’s two most influential and pioneering artists of the time - Hyewon and Jeong Seon (1676-1759), also known by his pen name Gyeomjae - but also media artworks inspired by the two masters’ works. The exhibition runs until May 24.

All 30 paintings inside the “Album of Genre Paintings” are exhibited along with Gyeomjae’s 12 paintings inside the “Album Transmitting the Spirit of the Sea and Peaks,” as well as 26 paintings of Mount Geumgang. Next to the cultural assets are 17 media art works produced by Brand Architects, which allow visitors to enjoy some of the exhibited works in animated 2-D images.

“We wanted to break that stereotype people have that antique paintings are stale,” said Shin Do-seong from the Kansong Art and Culture Foundation. “One of the best ways to do that, we believe, is to use digital technologies and move a step closer to the people of today who are used to appreciating art and culture through the latest technologies.”


Hyewon Sin Yun-bok’s genre painting of “Dancing Together with Two Swords,” right, has been reimagined as a five-minute video image, center, capturing real motion of a sword dancer. Its costume has also been recreated as hanbok, or traditional Korean clothing, by designer Lee Young-hee, left. [SEOUL DESIGN FOUNDATION]

Upon entering the exhibition, visitors will see three digitized paintings of Hyewon and three of Gyeomjae.

Celebrated media artist Lee Lee-nam also participated in the exhibition through two media art works inspired by Gyeomjae’s paintings of Mount Geumgang. “New-Danbalryeong Mangeumgang” is Lee’s new work inspired by Gyeomjae’s famous “Danbalryeong Mangeumgang,” which is being exhibited for the first time. This six-minute projection media work fills the thick fog depicted in Gyeomjae’s painting with fantastical video images showing high rises, cable cars and construction sites.

At the end of the exhibition is a 21-meter-long (68.8-foot-long) media projection showing digitized images of Gyeomjae’s paintings of Mount Geumgang.

“Here, we’ve created a platform for visitors to take selfies and really enjoy the exhibition,” explained Joon Lim, CEO of Brand Architects.

Flashy digital media art works that attract young visitors are only half of what this exhibition has to offer.

Those who want to enjoy the original copies of the master’s albums should visit the exhibition at least three times over the course of six months, suggests Tak from the Kansong Museum.

“All 30 paintings from the ‘Album of Genre Paintings’ will be exhibited, but only 12 of them at a time will be original copies. Every month, the original paintings will alternate so that all 30 paintings will be displayed at least once during the exhibition, just not all at once,” Tak explained. The schedule is listed inside the exhibition.


The exhibition kicked off on Friday and will run until May 24. Tickets cost 10,000 won ($9.22). The exhibition is open every day except Mondays, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and until 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. For more information, visit
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