[KS] LACMA Beyond Line: The Art of Korean Writing [June 16 to Sept 29, 2019]

Frank Hoffmann hoffmann at koreanstudies.com
Fri Jul 12 03:31:17 EDT 2019

Thanks to Virginia for posting the exhibition info of her show!

_Beyond Line_ is indeed an amazing show at LACMA! It’s definitely one 
of those shows that is worth traveling to. I at least enjoyed it like a 
little boy with wide-open eyes. Please go, if you have a chance.

Why this show? What really “did it” for me simply is the absolutely 
excellent selection of first-rate Chosŏn period calligraphic works. All 
the pre-1880s works are stunning, wonderfully crafty, and very free in 
spirit while still observing all the various rule sets that applied to 
scholars’ and professionals’ calligraphic works and all the various 
schools. As you know, true enjoyment in traditional calligraphy is 
mostly produced by the the pointed rule violations of the calligrapher. 
The pure skill and character, the liveliness and joy in these works, 
many of which are 200 years old or more, is so very accessible, so 
fresh and still easily understood by viewers today, and that alone 
totally amazed me. Just look at that invented elephant character in Ch’
usa Kim Chŏng-hŭi’s “Mount Kunlun Rides on an Elephant” (崑侖騎象). 
Such a dense story packaged into four characters; all that storytelling 
presented with humor you just cannot beat – you absolutely cannot beat 
that. Well, it probably takes a Banksy to get there. 

As with so many Asian art shows over the past two decades, curators 
Stephen Little and Virginia Moon are presenting “old” and “new,” 
traditional, modern, and the contemporary, side by side. How well does 
this work? What are we getting out of this? For me it only works as a 
drastic demonstration of how badly the integration of calligraphy into 
the modern period, the conversion of calligraphic skills and 
meditations into “art,” modern art, has worked out: pretentious, 
non-intuitive, and remarkably low in their crafty quality (modern 
Korean artists, not trained in calligraphy, even ask others to write 
the characters in their works). Well…. what’s the point of turning 
calligraphy into a work of contemporary art if the artist has to 
outsource its making? Art à la Apple and Nike? Others, less artsy and 
more “traditional” works in style are mostly in calligraphic styles “
by the book,” as a fellow art historian remarked, with expected, 
hardly ever surprising, decorative feel-well experiments that come 
across as either plain boring, owing their existence to the skill of “
quoting” their few drops of juice from selected pieces of traditional 
works. Only the fat purses of Samsung or whoever else sponsors such 
works as “modernized tradition” help to sell even those works as “art
” – but hung next to a Ch’usa I feel not too amazed. Stephen Little, 
in his 32-page introductory essay of the truly wonderfully printed and 
designed exhibition catalog, presents us with a cheeky admission of 
this, kind of, sort of, having decided to brush over the topic of 
contemporary calligraphy in just half a page. To the curators’ credit, 
though, the art historical explanation and the causes for the decline 
of calligraphy in modern Korea are dealt with in the catalog’s last 
essay (however euphemistic parts of it are). In that sense, the 
traditional/modern approach is “educationally” justifiable. Then 
again, I’d still wish great museums such as LACMA would not take it 
for granted that American audiences only want to “be educated” on the 
level of high school Wikipedia researchers and would turn their backs 
if they did not detect some Brillo Boxes and Campbell's Soup Cans, or 
the Korean redesign thereof, once they have entered a museum. Ch’usa’
s elephant is gigantomanic enough for all visitors!

Anyway, don’t get me wrong. This is a tremendously wonderful show with 
an incredible selection of outstanding works, each alone worth 
traveling to see. Thanks to the curators and to LACMA!

Frank Hoffmann

On Wed, 10 Jul 2019 09:13:15 -0700, Moon, Virginia wrote:
> An invitation: For those of you in or near the Los Angeles area over 
> the summer, stop by the major exhibition on Korean writing and 
> calligraphy at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) 
> [www.lacma.org].
> This is the first exhibition of its kind featuring hanja and hangeul 
> and the different interpretations of writing from the ancient period 
> to the contemporary. The overarching significance of the works from 
> different classes and periods is to point out the humanity of Korea's 
> people, including slaves, and to see a country's culture emerge 
> through the writings of individuals.  Acknowledged as being the first 
> show of its kind in and outside of Korea, the exhibition is 
> accompanied by a 408-page catalog of all the nearly 90 works in the 
> show, the first publication in English on Korean writing and 
> calligraphy in the world, available in the bookstore. 
> Exhibition is up until September 29, 2019.  The subject of the show 
> was conceived by Dr. Stephen Little as part of The Hyundai Project: 
> Korean Art Scholarship Initiative and crafted and carried out by 
> Korean curator Virginia Moon.  The two curators are co-authors of the 
> exhibition catalog.
> https://www.lacma.org/art/exhibition/beyond-line 
> Virginia Moon, PhD
> Assistant Curator of Korean Art
> 5905 Wilshire Blvd. 
> Los Angeles, CA 90036
> T: 323-857-6099
> Email: vmoon at lacma.org

Frank Hoffmann

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