Geurim: Fine Korean Paintings at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
The First Scholarly Website in English to Focus on Korean Painting
LACMA’s website is the first widely available scholarly resource for Korean painting in English. Aside from general catalogues published by Western museums to document their collections, there is very little material published in English about Korean art.
The strength of LACMA’s collection of Korean paintings is its comprehensiveness, with the breadth and depth of Joseon dynasty (1392–1910) paintings being especially noteworthy. For this online project, we chose the most important Korean paintings in LACMA’s collection, and they naturally fell into two categories: Buddhist subjects, including religious figures and concepts; and secular subjects such as landscapes, birds and flowers, and portraits of officials, as well as paintings of court ceremonies.
The collection also includes numerous important Korean folding screens, and its strength in this area gives the museum a more prominent place among peer institutions worldwide. These painted screens, usually of eight or ten panels, exhibit typical Korean aesthetics and often contain historical documentation. To understand the screens fully, viewers must be able to see details of their complex iconography, which is often in narrative form.
The Buddhist paintings, which originally hung on the walls of temples, are also significant. Many of the works have lengthy inscriptions, which are often vital for understanding the works in a historical context. An appreciation of these paintings is greatly enhanced by viewing close-up images of details, as well as by reading translations and in-depth explanations of the inscriptions.
New and Significant Contributions to Korean Art Scholarship
The paintings in this collection had never before been comprehensively studied. Hyonjeong Kim Han, LACMA’s associate curator of Chinese and Korean art, and Professor Chung Woo-thak, senior professor and specialist in Buddhist painting at Dongguk University, Seoul, conducted all new and original research in both Korean and classical Chinese. While researching the thirty-five paintings in this project, the curator and guest scholar discovered information that significantly enhanced the importance of the collection.
Their investigations consisted of a review of all similar extant paintings known today; a review of all written records that relate to the works, including pertinent historical records, and writings by the artists, their subjects, and their contemporaries; and the criticism of later theorists. By deciphering the many classical Chinese inscriptions and seals on the paintings, they were able to identify artists and collectors, and to revise dates. By extensively researching comparable works of art, in addition to historical writings only available in Korean and classical Chinese, the scholars were better able to position the paintings within the history of Korean painting in general.
Hyonjeong Kim Han and Professor Chung Woo-thak produced a scholarly essay for each of the thirty-five works of art, the first English-language essays published that concentrate on individual paintings or sets of paintings. Hyonjeong Kim Han wrote the essays about the secular paintings, while Professor Chung Woo-thak wrote the essays about Buddhist paintings.