Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Reinstalls Arts of Korea Gallery

by Jessica Fuentes May 16, 2024

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) has reinstalled its Arts of Korea Gallery, with a focus on the Joseon dynasty.

The Arts of Korea Gallery was established in 2007 and was the first gallery dedicated to Korean art in the Southern U.S. Then, in 2014, the MFAH presented Treasures from Korea: Arts and Culture of the Joseon Dynasty, 1392-1910, the first comprehensive survey of art from the Joseon dynasty to be organized in the U.S. Over the years, the museum’s Korean art collection has expanded through gifts, acquisitions, and loans from the National Museum of Korea. 

In a press release, Gary Tinterow, Director and Margaret Alkek Williams Chair of the MFAH, commented, “We are very pleased to once again partner with the National Museum of Korea to present some of their most treasured objects to our audiences in Houston. These objects will illuminate for visitors the beauty and artistry of Korean culture across generations.”

An installation photograph of contemporary and historical Korean art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Arts of Korea Gallery at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2024

Bradley Bailey, MFAH’s Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Curator of Asian Art, added, “The MFAH’s Arts of Korea Gallery has been completely transformed, embodying the austere beauty and artistic restraint of Korea’s Joseon period with the cutting-edge, sleek aesthetics of contemporary Korea.” He continued, “Seemingly suspended inside new, completely transparent cases, striking white ceramics, elegantly shaped jars, and finely carved dining tables, are accompanied by a recent acquisition, a monumental masterwork by contemporary Korean artist Ran Hwang. Made of over 100,000 buttons hammered into panels, it represents the palace gates of the great Joseon palaces of Seoul, showing the enduring beauty and importance of Korean art of this period.”

During the Joseon dynasty, which lasted over 500 years, the yangban, a class of men, governed alongside the king. The yangban were scholars and much of their lives were closely tied to studying and writing. As part of the reinstallation of the Arts of Korea Gallery, many of the historical works on view include writing implements and accessories that blend practicality with artistry. 

An installation photograph of the Arts of Korea Gallery at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Arts of Korea Gallery at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2024

The installation also features porcelain ritual bowls and vessels, a ten-panel 19th-century folding screen that depicts a panoramic view of a mountain range, and two contemporary works on Joseon-era subjects. Geejo Lee’s Moon Jar was acquired by the MFAH in 2019 and is a contemporary version of an iconic form of Korean ceramics originally referred to as daeho, meaning “big jar.” Ran Hwang’s First Wind, which Mr. Bailey described above, depicts views of the Five Grand Palaces of Seoul, which were built during the Joseon Dynasty. 

A photograph of a large porcelain jar by Geejo Lee.

Geejo Lee, “Moon Jar,” 2018, porcelain, 19 3/8 x 17 inches. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Museum purchase funded by Chong-Ok Lee Matthews, In-Suk Koo, and Maureen and Melvyn Hetzel.

This reinstallation of the Arts of Korea Gallery is the latest in a series of reimagined and newly conceived permanent collection galleries. In December 2023, the museum debuted The Albert and Ethel Herzstein Gallery for Judaica, a permanent gallery space for works of art made by and for Jewish communities throughout the world. Earlier in 2023, the MFAH opened the Hossein Afshar Galleries for Art of the Islamic Worlds, building on a decade-long collaboration with the al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait. In June 2022, the museum reinstalled its European galleries to present a broader history including cross-cultural connections.

The Arts of Korea Gallery is part of the MFAH’s permanent collection galleries. Read about admission costs and plan your visit at the museum’s website.

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