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New Korean Art Gallery Opens in Honolulu

The Korean art collection at the Honolulu Academy of Arts is one of the most highly prized and celebrated collections at the museum. The founder of the Academy, Mrs. Anna Rice Cooke, created the initial foundation and contributions to the Korean art collection through judicious purchase of works of art. In 1927 she purchased a beautiful Koryo period, 12th century wine jar which demonstrates the Korean craftsmen's ability in slip-decorated treatment. (A similar example, thought to have come from the same kiln and date to the same period, is in the National Museum of Korea.) At the same time she purchased and donated a collection of 100 pieces of Korean ceramics, mostly celadon, which continue to be some of the highlights of the collection.

Other important collectors in the area continued to add to Mrs. Cooke's legacy, mainly in the area of ceramics. In addition, Robert Griffing Jr., director of the Academy of Arts from 1947-63, was also a passionate admirer of Korean art and helped to develop the collection, most significantly in the area of ceramics.

Reopened Korean Art Gallery at the
Honolulu Academy of Arts.

Over the years the collection has grown yet the space dedicated to the permanent display of the collection had not markedly changed for the better until the recent reopening of the collection on June 17, 2001, in newly renovated spaces that were funded through a generous grant from the Korea Foundation. Working with the office of the Honolulu Korean Consul General and the Korea Foundation officers and advisors enabled support to be obtained for this major renovation. Many important and substantial contributions were made by these organizations over the course of several years that saw the development from an initial plan into the completed gallery space. What follows is a deion of that process and the end result of a positive experience of Korean art and culture for locals and visitors to our island state.

The Honolulu Academy of Arts new Korean art gallery space was determined as part of a Master Plan that took place in 1997 which reevaluated the spaces dedicated to Asian Art at the Academy. The Korean art collection had been housed in a gallery between the China and Japan galleries that allowed for limited display of this extensive collection and the exhibition of only a few of the over 800 ceramics in the collection. The Master Plan set aside a new area, distinct but adjacent to the other collections of East Asian art, that permits greater autonomy and nearly doubles the square footage of the gallery. This gallery of 950 square feet is close to the main entrance of the Academy and has been designed to meet the needs of a growing collection. Design of the space began in 2000 and construction started in January 2001 with a grand opening on June 17, 2001.

It has been a challenging space in that there was a sharp step-down which was addressed in terms both of physical access and continuity with the adjoining China and temporary exhibition galleries. The design was conceived of by staff at the Academy including Curator of Asian Art Julia M. White and George Sexton of George Sexton Associates, Washington, D.C., who completed the Master Plan in 1997 and has been the principal designer for all of the renovation design of the Asian department at the Academy. The floor was raised at the entrance to meet the floor in the adjoining galleries and the lower level was brought up slightly so that the step-down was less severe. It is a very open design with peninsula cases protruding into the center of the gallery that remain unframed and instill a sense of greater space and allows for visual access to the entire gallery.

The organization of the gallery was determined largely by the strength of the collection and by certain themes that are explored largely through recent acquisitions. Traditionally, the strength of the collection lies in the 800 Korean ceramics that make up the backbone of the collection. Ranging from Gaya federation/Silla pieces through late Joseon, the collection is particularly rich in Goryeo celadon. These ceramics fill the two peninsula cases and also the two free-standing cases as well as a window case.

In addition over the last few years the Academy has been actively pursuing and purchasing paintings that allow for the exploration of themes surrounding men's quarters (a chaekgeori screen) vs. women's quarters (an anonymous 19th century lotus screen). These themes are further explored through accessories like a scholar's desk and women's ornaments. A 17th century temple shrine painting is coupled with an ancestor portrait to emphasize the importance of Confucianism during the last dynasty. Another area features a new acquisition of a large tiger painting and is coupled with coarser Joseon wares. A few new acquisitions of furniture help to convey the domestic life.

All the cases are easily accessed which means items can easily be rotated and thus more of the collection will be available for viewing by the community. Thus far the response from the community has been very positive with a Korea family day held on June 17, featuring Korean performing arts including dancing, music, and storytelling, as well as displays of calligraphy and other visual arts activities drawing over 1,000 people. Television and newspaper coverage from both the English -language as well as Korean-language media were enthusiastic about the new gallery space and the home it provides for Korean culture in Hawaii.



Gallery Opening Features Diverse Korean Cultural Events



Yoo Seung-eun, Cultural Exchange Team (seyoo@kf.or.kr)


With support from the Korea Foundation, the Korean Gallery at the Honolulu Academy of Arts reopened on June 17 following extensive renovations that doubled its original gallery space. As the person responsible for handling the Foundation's support for the museum's expansion, I had the pleasure of traveling to Hawaii to take part in the opening celebrations on June 16-17.

On June 16, the day before the official opening, about 200 guests from Hawaii and Korea took part in a special celebration dinner and preview of the new gallery featuring a rich collection of Korean paintings, furniture, and curios. The gallery's three exhibition areas featured displays of earthenware from the Three Kingdoms period, cheongja celadon ware from the Goryeo Dynasty, and baekja white porcelain and buncheong white slipware from the Joseon Dynasty, providing visitors the opportunity to observe a variety of traditional Korean ceramics.

Before the gallery was opened for viewing, a local minister presented a traditional Hawaiian benediction, which museum officials noted was a traditional religious ritual offered for the continued good fortune of the gallery.

The next day, an all-day Korean Cultural Festival was held throughout the museum to mark its official opening. A stage was set up in the central garden of the museum where traditional Korean performances of pungmulnori percussion music, pansori narrative songs, gayageum 12-stringed zithers, and traditional dance were featured. Meanwhile, in the rear garden of the museum, special educational events were held for local children, including a demonstration of calligraphy and the drawing of tigers that often appear in Korean folk paintings.