Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art Announces Korea Foundation Curatorship in Korean Art and Culture

April 27, 2023
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Exterior, Freer Gallery of Art

Smithsonian Institution

The National Museum of Asian Art has established an endowed curatorial position in Korean art and culture, thanks to a matching gift from the Korea Foundation. The position represents the museum’s first specialist in the field of Korean art. This gift from the Korea Foundation builds upon its long history of support for the museum.

The endowed curator will provide the sustained leadership necessary to grow the museum’s Korean program and collection and serve as a national and international leader in the study and presentation of Korean art and culture. The museum is actively fundraising to secure the matching funds needed to fully endow the position.

An international search for candidates for the curator of Korean art and culture began April 25.

“I am truly grateful to the Korea Foundation for its generous gift, and for its long-standing partnership with our museum” said Chase F. Robinson, Dame Jillian Sackler Director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art, the National Museum of Asian Art. “Our centennial is intended to mark the museum’s distinguished past and to usher in its future. This endowed position ensures that Korean art and culture will play a major role in our next century.”

“We are excited to witness the establishment of a new endowed curatorial position in Korean art and culture by National Museum of Asian Art and Korea Foundation at the museum this year,” said Gheewhan Kim, president of the Korea Foundation. “The curatorship position will be solely dedicated to developing and implementing programs and exhibitions that showcase the richness and diversity of Korean arts. This demonstrates the National Museum of Asian Art's commitment to expanding its collection and highlighting the cultural heritage of Korea. We believe that the appointment of the new curator will attract more visitors to the museum and foster a greater understanding of Korean arts and culture.”

When the museum opened its doors as the Freer Gallery of Art in 1923, it was one of the first in the United States to display Korean art. Today, the museum cares for close to 800 Korean objects, a number of which are the finest examples of their kind outside of Korea. The Korean ceramics collection is particularly noteworthy, and the museum holds three of the 16 Goryeo Buddhist paintings found in U.S. museums. The entire Korean collection can be viewed online. In recent years, with the growing prominence of Korean culture across the globe, the National Museum of Asian Art has increasingly shared its historical art collections alongside Korean popular culture in programming featuring film, food, music and performance. This steady expansion of the museum’s Korean program has been made possible thanks to support from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of the Republic of Korea, as well as from the National Museum of Korea, The Korea Foundation, the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation and the Korean Cultural Center of Washington, D.C.

Current Korea Initiatives

Presently, the museum’s Korean program supports visiting senior scholars, digital resource development, public and scholarly events, and exhibitions. Two recent exhibitions were co-organized with the National Museum of Korea: “Sacred Dedication: A Korean Buddhist Masterpiece” (2019) and “Once Upon a Roof: Vanished Korean Architecture” (2022).

The Korean Film Festival has been presented annually by the museum since 2004, supported by the Korea Foundation for much of this time. The festival showcases the latest in Korean cinema as well as classic films, together with public talks by visiting film directors and actors. Support for Korean artists and programming during the National Museum of Asian Art’s May 2023 festival has been provided by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of the Republic of Korea. The festival, May 1–May 14, celebrates Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and the museum’s 100th anniversary.

Korean and Korean American contemporary art have been featured in several exhibitions at the National Museum of Asian Art. One of the very earliest contemporary exhibitions held in the museum was dedicated to the Korean artist Do Ho Suh (2004), while most recently, the museum mounted “Perspectives: Michael Joo,” on view from July 2016 to July 2017. In fall 2023, an exhibition featuring Park Chankyong will inaugurate the museum’s new galleries for contemporary art. In early 2024, the museum will install a specially commissioned edition of the sculpture Public Figures by Do Ho Suh in front of the Freer Gallery to celebrate the museum’s centennial, complemented by public programs and funded in part by the Korea Foundation.

It is expected that the new curator of Korean art and culture will further activate the program, swiftly reinstalling the Korean permanent gallery in the Freer and sensibly expanding and diversifying the museum’s holdings through gifts and purchases. As a recognized specialist in the field, the new curator will create an ambitious and engaging scholarly program highlighting both pre-modern and contemporary culture. In addition to shaping a major Korean art loan exhibition already scheduled for 2025–2026, the new curator will drive innovative cultural programming in the Sackler. The curator will also contribute to the design of a new annual celebration of Korean art and culture that will coincide with the mid-autumn festival of Chuseok and expand the museum’s engagement with the Korean and Korean American community.

About Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art is committed to preserving, exhibiting, researching and interpreting art in ways that deepen our collective understanding of Asia and the world. Home to more than 45,000 objects, the museum stewards one of North America’s largest and most comprehensive collections of Asian art, with works dating from antiquity to the present from China, Japan, Korea, South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Islamic world. Its rich holdings bring the arts of Asia into direct dialogue with an important collection of 19th- and early 20th-century American works, providing an essential platform for creative collaboration and cultural exchange between the United States, Asia and the Middle East.

Beginning with a 1906 gift that paved the way for the museum’s opening in 1923, the National Museum of Asian Art is a leading resource for visitors, students and scholars in the United States and internationally. Its galleries, laboratories, archives and library are located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and are part of the world’s largest museum complex, which typically reports more than 27 million visits each year. The museum is free and open to the public 364 days a year (closed Dec. 25), making its exhibitions, programs, learning opportunities and digital initiatives accessible to global audiences.

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