Kaesong collection reveals hidden treasures in Korean art

The art of Korea has long been a treasured part of its history, and as it’s become more and more widely known, new museums and galleries have sprung up around the country. One of these is the National Museum of Korean Art, where you can find a variety of works, ranging from the pre-Joseon period to modern pieces. It’s also possible to visit the ancient observatory in Gyeongju, the oldest one in Korea, which contains artifacts that are not only important to the area’s history but also have astronomical significance.

Early Korean paper art

Korean handmade paper, or hanji, has a history dating back more than a thousand years. It is strong and durable, making it an ideal medium for archiving ancient documents. Throughout its long history, hanji has been a vital part of Korean culture.

In her book, Hanji Unfurled, author Aimee Lee takes readers on a journey through the traditional papermaking process. She explains the unique characteristics of hanji, the history of its creation, and how it has changed over time. The book is full of diagrams and hand-drawn drawings of tools and processes.

Hanji was originally made from the inner bark of the mulberry tree. Nowadays, it is manufactured using a mix of fibers, including bamboo, pine bark, and rice straw.

Hanji was once a coveted item in Korea. Artists and artisans sought it out during the cold winter months. During the Joseon era, the government pressed Buddhist monks to increase their production.

Historically, hanji played a sacred role. Hanji paper was used to cover various surfaces in traditional Korean houses. As it became more popular, paper crafts began to flourish.

Hanji is not a cheap material to make. However, it is very versatile. It can be dyed and printed. Because it is waterproof, it was often used as armor. Paper armor helped to protect people from arrows and provided a good insulation.

Today, there are several public institutions in Italy that work to preserve this ancient craft and may be a an example of it. Kim has been involved in promoting cultural exchange between paper conservators and Korean paper artisans. He holds a BA in Conservation and has been a spring intern at the Museum of Modern Art.

Buddhist art continued in the Joseon dynasty

Joseon dynasty Buddhist paintings were created using iconography based on contemporary woodblock print sutras. These Buddhist art paintings developed a unique Joseon style. 

During the sixteenth century, the Listener icon appeared in Joseon Buddhist paintings. It was first presented in a bodhisattva form, but in the mid-seventeenth century, it changed to a monk form. This change is largely related to changes in the publication of Buddhist texts and the movements in the Buddhist world.

During the sixteenth century, Buddhist painting continued to evolve in both India and Korea. The Gupta period in India saw the emergence of the Buddha figure, as well as Jain Tirthankara figures. Those figures became the models for artists in post-Gupta India.

At the same time, the Koryo Dynasty in Korea was more interested in Buddhism than in Confucianism. In fact, during the Koryo period, many paintings of Buddhist art were made with mineral colors. They also depicted the Buddhist figures with the symbolic hand gesture.

During the late fourteenth century, many of the royal family members continued to believe in Buddhism, and temples were built. The aristocracy’s support helped the arts flourish. Aside from court paintings, genre paintings were produced, such as landscapes.

Although the official patronage of Buddhist art in the Joseon dynasty ended after 1392, many royal family members still supported the temples financially. As a result, painters continued to produce Buddhist imagery for less elite patrons. Many painters left for Japan during this time.

During the early Ming period, it was difficult for the Joseon royal court to import books from China. However, the royal court’s efforts to bring back Buddhist books resulted in hundreds of copies of Biographies of Divine Monks being brought back.

Dansaekhwa

Dansaekhwa is an art term that refers to paintings made by artists who were never affiliated with a particular artistic movement. They used a variety of techniques to create artworks. Some artists associated with the movement include Lee Dong-Youb, Hur Hwang, Chung Sang-Hwa, Choi Myoung Young, and Choi Byung-so.

Many of the artists who worked in the movement were committed to thinking more intensively about constituent elements of painting. The artists of the movement were not part of a formal artistic movement, but rather were exploring the materials, process, and nature of paint.

A large number of Korean artists came from South Korea. Most of these artists worked in Seoul, with some artists residing in Berlin, Canada, and the United States. These artists were influenced by both Chinese and Japanese artistic traditions.

Contemporary Korean art has developed a new global awareness. Many artists have exhibited their work in major international galleries. Their style has been translated into various languages for global readers. This is evidenced by the success of the novel Kim Ji-young Born 1982 by Cho Nam-joo. It sold over 80,000 copies in Japan in 2018. In 2018, it was a best seller in the Asian literature category.

Korean cinema has also gained worldwide recognition, having been shown in major film festivals such as Cannes, Berlin, and Venice. With 101 years of history, the country’s films have a longstanding history. At these festivals, the quality of their movies was recognized.

One of the most prominent contemporary artists is Yang Hye-kyu. He has exhibited his works in galleries in the US, UK, and Canada. His work is a wide-ranging study of both traditional and modern art.

North Korean art caters explicitly to foreign tastes. An example of that may be Kaeson collection.

The North Korean state isn’t shy about publicizing its art. For decades, the country has been sending artwork abroad. Its propaganda posters feature images of heroic leaders, soldiers, and well-fed peasants. They are also regularly featured in newspaper editorials and declarations by the government.

But how much credibility can be attributed to a nation that exports such works? In fact, most of the materials used in making North Korean art are illegal in South Korea.

The South Korean government has a strict set of laws concerning the import of North Korean materials. Collectors can travel to the country to buy art, or order it directly from the state.

One of the best-known exports from North Korea is gigantic statues. These giant figures are often sold in African countries, where they are repainted to look more Asian. This is a particularly profitable market for the dictatorship. There is no question that North Korean artists are specialized in creating big-ticket monuments, but some have complained that some are too “North Korean.”

A rare exhibit of North Korean art has recently been shown in Goyang, north of Seoul. The exhibition features 150 works of art by 70 North Korean contemporary artists. Most of the paintings come from the country’s Mansudae Art Studio.

The works of art were purchased by the Springtime Art Foundation, a group that has collected about 2,500 pieces of North Korean art. The foundation launched an exhibition to promote its collection. However, the quality of the artwork isn’t entirely up to par.

Among the exhibit’s 150 pieces is a painting by a woman wearing a bright red bikini. Though she seems to be well-fed and happy, her face shows a range of emotions from contemplation to smiles.

Gyeongju’s oldest observatory has astronomical significance

In the ancient capital city of Gyeongju, South Korea, is the oldest standing astronomical observatory, Cheomseongdae. Its construction was made during the reign of Queen Seondeok, who ruled in AD 632-647.

Astronomy and astrology played an important role in everyday life in ancient Korea. Observers would observe the skies for sunrises, sunsets, and other celestial events. This information gave the king and his court the ability to make important decisions. A good king, who was well versed in astronomy, was considered a powerful monarch.

As the capital of the Silla Kingdom, Gyeongju became a center of science, art, and culture. The city’s astronomical observatory, Cheomseongdae, was built to provide a daily reading of the heavens for the royal family. It was a part of the huge science complex.

During the reign of Queen Seondeok, Cheomseongdae was constructed as a tower, with 27 circular layers of stones. Its south-facing window captures the sun’s rays on the interior floor during the spring and autumn equinoxes.

The tower was constructed by engineers of the Silla Kingdom in the mid-7th century. The observatory was constructed as part of a massive astronomy and science complex that included Bunhwangsa Temple and Adeukgi dolmen. All of these structures, as well as a number of others, were listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The site is also home to a 1.8 m telescope that was installed by the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute in 1996. Today, Cheomseongdae is a symbol of Korea and a cherished piece of history. Despite some damage due to earthquakes, the observatory has been able to survive.

Cheomseongdae has a diameter of 5.17 meters, and is surrounded by a 1.5 meter-deep layer of gravel. The exterior is designed to withstand earthquakes and provide a clear view of the heavens.

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