New Korean Art Hall in L.A. a Chance to Spread Korean Culture

      September 17, 2009 08:21

      The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is one of the five largest art museums in America. Located on 66,000 sq.m in the city's Miracle Mile district, LACMA is made up of eight different exhibition buildings featuring contemporary, classic and ancient masterpieces from America, Europe, Latin America and Japan. The museum holds major exhibitions year-round, serving as the center of the art scene in the western U.S. LACMA also has a small collection of Korean art, which until recently was displayed in a 116 sq.m underground room in the Ahmanson Building. It was small and difficult to find, and visitors often felt dwarfed by the much larger exhibitions all around. It was a poor representation of the breadth of the city's ethnic Korean community, which numbers more than 700,000 people.

      But as part of a major renovation LACMA decided to upgrade its Korean exhibition room, and the new space was revealed at a grand opening ceremony last Wednesday. The new hall is 578 sq.m and has four separate sections. It is also easier to find, clearly labeled with a huge "Korean Art" sign and located right next to the main ticket sales area and museum shop on the first floor of the Hammer Building. Korean art has rarely been given so much attention by a prominent overseas museum.

      As I flew to the U.S. to deliver a lecture for the hall's opening, I was worried that the museum would be unable to fill the large space with its own collection. Fortunately, museum officials in Korea rolled up their sleeves to support LACMA's efforts to highlight Korean art. The National Museum of Korea loaned National Treasure No. 78, a gilt-bronze Maitreya in meditation, to LACMA for three months, while Amore Pacific Museum of Art filled a section in the new hall with works fitting the theme of women's culture. Without a doubt, LACMA's new Korean art hall delivers the unique flavor of Korean culture.

      So far we have paid more attention to retrieving Korean national treasures that were looted and sold overseas than we have to spreading the beauty of our culture abroad through exhibits at overseas museums. Now, with LACMA's new Korean art hall as the impetus, we should take a closer look at the need to increase international awareness of our culture through exchanges with other museums and similar projects.

      By You Hong-june, a professor of art history at Myongji University

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