National Museum of Korea to feature Goryeo Buddhist paintings

By Chung Ah-young, The Korean Times, Oct 10, 2010

Seoul, South Korea -- The National Museum of Korea will open a special exhibition “Masterpieces of Goryeo Buddhist Painting — A Long Lost Look after 700 Years” from Oct. 12 to Nov. 21. The exhibition has been organized in part to celebrate the 5th anniversary of its relocation to the present venue and the hosting of the G20 summit in Seoul next month.

This exhibition, the largest of its kind, will provide a rare opportunity to see all the beauty and splendor of a total of 108 Goryeo Buddhist paintings from all over the world at one venue.

There are allegedly some extant 160 Goryeo Buddhist paintings around the world. Among them, 61 paintings, — 27 from Japanese, 10 from the U.S., five from Europe, and 19 from Korean collections — will be shown in the exhibition. In particular, the exhibition includes Hyeheo’s “Water-Moon Avalokiteshvara,” currently housed at Japan’s Senso-ji temple.

To compare artistic styles and values and help visitors appreciate the contemporary trends in East Asian Buddhist art, the exhibition will feature 20 Buddhist paintings from China’s Southern Song and Yuan Dynasties and Japan’s Kamakura period.

Also, five Buddhist paintings from the early Joseon period, which are widely believed to inherit the tradition of Goryeo Buddhist paintings, will be on display, alongside 22 other Goryeo Buddhist sculptures and metal crafts.

The museum said that Goryeo Buddhist paintings are widely thought as some of the most beautiful religious arts in the world. “Their delicate and graceful forms are indicative of the high aesthetic standards of the Goryeo people, their brilliant primary colors and resplendent use of gold pigment, and their beautiful yet powerful flowing lines combined to create an unparalleled world of beauty in the East Asia of the day. The artworks offer a glimpse of a whole picture of Goryeo culture with its sublimated spirituality of Goryeo Buddhism,” the curator said in a press release. The exhibition will focus on the Senso-ji collection’s “Water-Moon Avalokiteshvara” as well as the Nezu Museum’s “Kshitigarbha” and the Otaka-ji temple’s “Illustration of the Visualization Sutra,” which will be shown for the first time in Korea.

In particular, “Water-Moon Avalokiteshvara,” also known as “Water Droplet Avalokiteshvara,” is one of the most famous Buddhist works that is widely introduced in school textbooks.

For the exhibition, 44 institutions, such as the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art in Korea; Tokyo National Museum, Nara National Museum, and Kyushu National Museum in Japan; the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in the United States; the Musee Guimet in France; the Museum of East Asian Art, Berlin, and the Museum of East Asian Art, Cologne, in Germany; and the State Hermitage Museum in Russia, have contributed from their collections.

According to the museum, as Goryeo Buddhist paintings are extremely rare, any institution does not have more than one piece. For that reason, the process of persuading 44 different institutions to contribute their piece for the exhibition in Korea was not easy. As most of the Goryeo Buddhist paintings are housed in Japan, the museum had to persuade the relevant officials of the Japanese institutions as trust-building efforts to return the collection to them after being borrowed for the exhibition in Korea.

Admission is 1,000 won for ages 7 to 18, 2,000 won for ages 19 to 25, and 3,000 won for ages 26 to 64. Paintings are alternated during the exhibition period with different exhibition times for different works.