The Philadelphia Museum of Art, one of the largest art museums in the United States, will from October 2023 hold a major exhibition surveying Korean contemporary art.
On September 8, the Korean media outlet Chosun Ilbo reported that The Shape of Time (working title) exhibition will feature more than thirty Korean contemporary artworks created after 1989. The artworks will cover approximately 1,000 square meters of the museum’s gallery and outdoor public spaces.
The thirty-three participating artists, including Do Ho Suh (b. 1962), Ham Kyungah (b. 1966), and Meekyoung Shin (b. 1967), were born mainly between 1960 and 1980 and either share the experience of South Korea by birth, residence, or having ancestry from the country.
This group of artists has lived through South Korea’s rapidly shifting modern history—from a dictatorial regime to globalization and new democratic freedoms. Rather than delving into how these sudden changes are integrated into the present, the exhibition will be presented under the theme of “temporal dissonance.”
The exhibition will reflect on how each artist has built their worldview framed by memories based on the turbulent times of the past thirty years. These reflections will be especially centered around the concepts of the gendered body, tension and conflict, migration, adaptation, and change.
Meekyoung Shin, a South Korean artist based in London and known for her soap sculptures and Juree Kim, who works on clay sculptures that evoke memories, will present site-specific artworks in the exhibition.
The exhibition is curated by Hyunsoo Woo, deputy director for collections and exhibitions and curator of Korean art, and Elisabeth Agro, curator of American modern and contemporary crafts and decorative arts at the museum.
“Western-centric categorization in contemporary art has been keeping Korean contemporary art outside the category,” said deputy director Woo about the exhibition in an interview with the Chosun Ilbo. She added that “through this exhibition, we intend to lay the foundation for incorporating Korean contemporary art into a legitimate position in the current global contemporary art discourse.”
As the country has recently gained global popularity, Korean modern and contemporary art, which has been relatively overlooked by the international art world, is being introduced at various art museums around the world, such as Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Guggenheim, and ZKM.
This reflects a new shift in the art world where the focus is turning from straight, white, male-dominated artists to female artists, artists of color, LGBTQ artists, and artists from non-Western cultures who were long-neglected in art history but are finally getting overdue recognition.
Curator Hyunsoo Woo took over as deputy director at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2021, which was the first case of a Korean curator being selected as an executive member of the museum.
After graduating from Ewha Woman’s University’s Department of Art History in Korea, Woo worked as a researcher at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York (1997–2001), as an assistant director at the Japan Society in New York (2001–2005), and as a curator of Korean Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from 2006.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art was established in 1876 as part of the city’s centennial exposition and currently houses about 240,000 works. The museum holds the largest collection of artworks by Marcel Duchamp in the world.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art was one of the first museums to collect Buncheong ware, a form of traditional Korean stoneware, in 1903 and started to collect Korean contemporary art in the mid-1990s. Since 2006, it has become one of the five art museums in the United States with a dedicated curator of Korean art. The museum currently has a collection of approximately 450 Korean artworks.