March 10, 2011
June 26, 2011
Korean art has played a key role at the Honolulu Academy of Arts since the museum opened in 1927. One of the first galleries was named the “Korean Room,” and it was possibly the earliest gallery in the United States—by several decades—dedicated to Korean art. Furthermore, the gift of more than 100 Korean works (establishing what has since become one of the best collections in a public institution outside Korea) was an important legacy from the Academy’s founder, Anna Rice Cooke.
Cooke’s gift was dominated by ceramics, some of which are now considered to be among the finest surviving examples of their type, but it also included several artworks in other media. Among the most notable of these are a small number of paintings, including a monumental pair of Korean screens. The impressive scale of these screens—they are more than seven feet high—together with the lavish use of gold and expensive mineral pigments, clearly indicates that they were for imperial use. Their title, Cranes and Peaches (Haehakbandodo in Korean), comes from the prominent featuring of these two motifs, both symbols of longevity in East Asia. The screens were first presented to the public in the Korean Room in 1928.
Despite the fact that these are among the largest and most luxurious paintings to have survived from the imperial court of the Chosŏn dynasty (1392-1910), they were in poor condition, and thus displayed at the Academy only infrequently. In 2006, the Academy had the rare honor to be offered conservation support from the National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage (NRICH), an agency of the Korean government. While the screens were being cleaned at the Gochang Institute, one of the leading conservation studios in Korea, an important discovery was made: in faint gold ink, barely visible to the naked eye, there is a traditional cyclical date inscribed in the upper right corner of the right screen. Since the cyclical dates repeat every 60 years, it could correspond to either 1842 or 1902. Recently, Korean painting scholar Soojin Kim has argued that the screens were made in 1902, and commemorate the entry of Emperor Gojong (r. 1863-1907) into the Society of Honorable Seniors (Giroso) in his 51st year.
In 2009, the Academy was offered an unprecedented second grant from NRICH to conserve a group of 26 Korean ceramics from its world-renowned collection. This exhibition includes the two imperial screens, and two impressively sized “moon jars” that were conserved with the second grant.
The Academy thanks the Government of the Republic of Korea, which, through the National Research Institute for Cultural Heritage, has made these superb examples of Korean art once again available to the Hawaii community.
This exhibition is part of the group of tightly focused exhibitions that make up Celebration of Paintings in Honor of the Association of Asian Studies and the International Convention of Asia Scholars.