Saturday, April 14, 2012

Goryeo Buddhist Paintings: A Closer Look

Where: Sackler Gallery

When: through May 28, 2012

This is a very small exhibit - only three paintings, which are Buddhist icons created in Korea in the 14th century.  Although the works were acquired by the Smithsonian 100 years ago, they have never been displayed together before.

These icons were inspired by Chinese art of the period and were intended for close viewing in an intimate setting.  The artists painted on both sides of the silk - a reminder of the Jakuchu show at the National Gallery!  The icons were intended to provide a promise of salvation to the viewer; those needing to be rescued from hell in the afterlife could turn to Kshitigarbha, who possesses a wish-granting jewel.

There are only 150 Goryeo Buddhist paintings in the world, and when these pieces were purchased, they were believed to be Chinese or Japanese.  Only through on-going study was the truth discovered.  Sadly, the years have not been kind to these works; they are much darkened and the details are difficult to make out.  Luckily, Buddhist painting specialist Chung Woothak has made a photographic study of the pieces, and the video on display shows the details that are no longer visible on the originals.

Verdict: Easily managed in a lunch hour and interesting to see a show on Korean art; it occurs to me that I don't think I've seen one before.  You could pair it with the Minouk Lim video that's still playing in the foyer.

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