[KS] Korean Art market during the colonial period

Hyung Il Pai hyungpai at eastasian.ucsb.edu
Tue Sep 25 21:23:33 EDT 2007

Dear List,
In response to Keith's question about looting, and the answer is "Yes."
By the early twentieth century, because of the popularity of Korean  
ceramics, especially celadon amongst the Japanese collectors and  
lovers of tea-bowls, a class of professional grave diggers had a new  
occupation catering to many customers abroad and in Korea. Then as is  
now, the black market in antiquities is a entirely a supply and demand  
international trade where the item goes to the highest bidder.
Archaeological reports published by the Colonial Government Committee  
on Antiquities during the colonial period write that the reason why  
antiquities laws and systematic archaeological surveys were carried  
out was to stop the looting so that their "imperial objects" should  
stay in their colony, Korea.
When you also look at the illustrations of Koguryo tombs in the  
reports, there are obviously holes dug in from the side and top of  
tombs to get at the grave good and mural pieces. This is why there are  
very few Koguryo or Paekche materials have been found in context, and  
survive today in museums.
The second reason for the excavations was zaibatsu development to  
build railroads, train stations, and infra-structure.
For example, the center of P'yongyang around 1915 was one of the first  
regions to be excavated because of the building of the Onoda cement  
The Colonial Government , the Imperial Household (Kunaisho) and the Yi  
Royal family household funded and supported these colonial state  
initiated projects.
As we already know, the most spectacular remains such as Sokkuram,  
Pulguksa, Kumkwan Ch'ong ( Gold Crown Tomb) and Nangnang and Koguryo  
tombs were all reconstructed with museums built close-by so the staff  
could monitor the digs to prevent looting. These became cultural  
destinations promoted to visiting Japanese royalty and businessmen to  
show off the Ch'ongdokpu civilizing mission. Korea's remains were  
promoted as the more authentic and reliable sources for understanding  
the prehistoric origins of not only Korean but also Japanese  
civilization because the Japanese archaeologists were not allowed to  
investigate "sacred" imperial tombs (a policy which continues today).
When you look at colonial travel brochures near these sites, there  
were already souvenir shops or omiyage shops where they sold "Korean  
pottery" and arts andcrafts for the tourist market and collectors.
Hyung Il Pai (April 07-March 08)
Visiting Research Professor
International Research Center for Japanese Studies
Nishikyo-ku, Goryo, Oeyama cho 3-2, Kyoto 613-1192
Office) 81-75-335-2155
Fax) 81-75-335-2043

Quoting Frank Hoffmann <hoffmann at koreaweb.ws>:

> Just to add to what Keith Pratt just said:
> From what I gather so far very few Koreans bought contemporary art  
> at the time, not for collection purposes in any case (rather for  
> decoration of offices, business buildings, etc.). The reasons are  
> obvious. What I found so far, but with still too little evidence, is  
> that Korean painters produced, other than for the annual Chosôn Art  
> Exhibition, works directly for Japanese living in Korea -- including  
> a quite sizable amount of erotic art works (stylistic imitations of  
> Qing Chinese works), usually in the form of traditional style  
> albums. Besides, certainly works for travellers from Japan, usually  
> showing Korean men and women in traditional dress, and usually  
> strongly influenced in style by Japanese Nihonga. I don't know of  
> any oil paintings being bought or ordered by Japanese -- which again  
> makes a lot of sense. But I too can imagine that works that already  
> hung in the Chosôn Art Exhibition, and had therefore gathered some  
> value, were then being bought by Japanese (and/or Korean coll
> ec
> tors) such as Kim Sông-su. It should also be noted that many  
> Japanese artists lived and worked in Korea. The residency  
> requirement to participate in the Chosôn Art Exhibition was half a  
> year, and many less successful Japanese artists tried to find there  
> luck in Chósen, but without much success. Yet, they competed with  
> local Korean artists in this very limited market, also produced lots  
> of what is nowadays being called "local colors" painting in South  
> Korea.
> Frank
> -- 
> --------------------------------------
> Frank Hoffmann
> http://koreaweb.ws

More information about the Koreanstudies mailing list