Lee Kun-hee collection returns to National Museum of Korea
The popular Lee Kun-hee collection is back on display at the National Museum of Korea in central Seoul. The special exhibit titled “A Collector’s Invitation,” which kicks off Thursday has been organized to mark the first anniversary of late Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee’s donation of impressive and extensive national heritages and artworks to the country.
A year ago on April 28, Lee’s family announced that they would donate about 23,000 pieces of impressive artworks from the late tycoon’s collection including iconic Korean paintings such as “Inwangjesaekdo (Scene of Mount Inwang After Rain)” by Jeong Seon (1676-1759) of Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) and paintings by big names in the Western art world, such as Claude Monet and Salvador Dali, to Korea’s national and municipal museums.
The two exhibits — one at the National Museum of Korea and the other at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) in central Seoul — that kicked off last July to showcase part of Lee’s vast and valuable collection to the public were so popular that there was cutthroat competition to get a ticket.
The exhibit at the National Museum of Korea went on for only two months and not many got a chance to enjoy the exhibit, especially during the pandemic when the government’s social distancing regulations were much stricter. The exhibit at the MMCA, titled “MMCA Lee Kun-hee Collection: Masterpieces of Korean Art” is still ongoing. It kicked off on July 21, had two extended runs and will finally wrap up on June 6. The museum is no longer taking reservations for the exhibit and only sells tickets at the door, one per person. It still limits the number to 100 at a time.
That is why this one-year anniversary exhibit at the National Museum of Korea comes as good news to those who missed out on both exhibits as the exhibition is co-organized by the National Museum of Korea and the MMCA.
The exhibit displays a total of 355 “carefully selected” pieces among the vast collection donated by the late Samsung chairman, according to the museum.
“Among them, 308 pieces will be from 21,693 ancient artifacts donated to the National Museum of Korea, 35 pieces are from the MMCA, which received 1,488 modern and contemporary artworks and 12 pieces are from five regional museums. They received 102 modern and contemporary artworks,” said Lee Jae-ho, curator of the exhibit from the National Museum of Korea. The artifacts from the National Museum of Korea include six state-designated National Treasures and 15 Treasures.
As the exhibit at the museum last year only displayed 45 Korean artifacts and old artworks, the current exhibit is much more grand and even includes some modern pieces.
The exhibit is largely divided into two parts.
The first “Into My House” is a “metaphorical space that illuminates Lee’s taste and eye for art and antiques as a collector,” said Lee. Artworks and antiques have a penetrating theme of “family and love,” such as oil painting “Family” by Chang Ucchin (1917-1990) and a pair of scrolls with writings by Joseon-era scholar Jeong Yak-yong (1762-1836) commissioned by a resident of Gangjin who wanted to reminisce about his dead son and a dutiful wife. The scrolls were not on display during last year’s exhibit and are being shown to the public for the first time.
Visitors are then invited into a dark room displaying Claude Monet’s “The Water-Lily Pond.” This piece, which is donated to the MMCA, was painted after 1971 when Monet regained his will to paint. Before then, he was in despair because of his gradually diminishing eyesight followed by the death of his wife and son. According to Lee, Monet created more than 250 paintings of water lilies as “the garden for him was his most beautiful masterpiece.”
Leaving Monet’s beautiful painting behind, visitors will walk into the second part of the exhibit: “Introduction to My Collection.”
In an attempt to show “men’s experience of communication with nature,” the curator says this section begins with an array of Joseon-era landscape paintings and contemporary paintings inspired by nature. An example is the famous “Bull” (1950s) by Lee Jung-seob (1916-1956) and his picturesque painting of “Landscape of Seopseom Island” (1951).
This section is where “Inwangjesaekdo (Scene of Mount Inwang After Rain)” by Jeong Seon is on display. Since it’s a valuable National Treasure, it gets its own separate room. According to the museum, the painting will only be displayed for a month and be taken down and replaced with a different “valuable calligraphic work to minimize possible damage from exposure to light.”
Goryeo Dynasty’s (918-1392) painting of “Water-Moon Avalokiteshvara” and Joseon Dynasty’s folding screen of “Ten Longevity Symbols” will also be taken down on May 31. It will be replaced by Kim Hong-do’s (1745-1806) “Sound of Autumn,” a state-designated Treasure, which will be on display from June 1 to 30. Next up is “Winter Scene of Bulguksa Temple” (1996) by Park Dae-sung, which will be on view from July 1 to 28. It will be replaced by Lee Gyeong-seung’s “Butterflies” (1919) on July 29, which will be displayed until the exhibit comes to an end on Aug. 28. Some of the works that have had a good rest will also travel to other municipal museums, like “Inwangjesaekdo” and “Sound of Autumn,” which will head to the Gwangju National Museum for 20 days.
Toward the end of the exhibit, visitors will be able to see sculptural works, documents and drawings that deliver religious enlightenment and knowledge. Numerous relics are on display here, such as Goryeo Dynasty’s “Water-Moon Avalokitesvara” and “Bodhisattva Triad with a Single Halo.” Visitors who were at the last year’s exhibit will wonder where the “Thousand-Armed Avalokitesvara,” that was displayed next to the “Water-Moon Avalokitesvara” is. The museum said the latter painting will replace the former after two months.
A large Buddhist bell that was produced in the early Goryeo period is also on display in this section. The bell has a dragon-shaped handle on top. Visitors are invited to sit down before the bell and listen to the sound, not from the bell but from the speakers that play the sound recorded from a similar bell — the “Sacred Bell of Great King Seongdeok,” which is a National Treasure housed at the Gyeongju National Museum in North Gyeongsang.
“This special exhibition has been planned in a way to ruminate on the philosophy of Lee Kun-hee as reflected in his act of collecting cultural heritage and objects of art across time and genre and donating them,” said Min Byoung-chan, director-general of the National Museum of Korea. “Objects on display have been meticulously selected to represent ancient cultural heritage and modern and contemporary art and interwoven with one another to create dialogues, to highlight the diversity of Lee’s collection and reveal the characteristics of Korean culture.”
The exhibition ends on Aug. 28. Ticket reservations will open per month at 2 p.m. via Interpark Ticket. For example, tickets to go see the exhibit from April 28 to May 31 opened at 2 p.m. on March 28. Tickets between June 1 to 30 will open at 2 p.m. on May 2. Tickets can also be purchased at the site, but only two per person.
BY YIM SEUNG-HYE [firstname.lastname@example.org]