In this exhibition illuminating the evolution of art and its environments in the wake of urbanization, artworks in various genres from Korea and abroad will be presented to describe the development of “urban culture” from the eighteenth century on. The themes will range from the urban landscape to sentiment and aesthetics of the late Joseon to modern periods.
* Guide for foreigners (In English): Thursdays 15:00-16:00
1. Beyond the City Walls
During the late Joseon Dynasty, Hanyang, the center of politics and administration, was transformed into a crowded commercial city. Accordingly, the urban field of Hanyang expanded beyond the original city walls. Scenes of the city and the people living in it were favored as subjects for poetry and painting.
Experiencing the cities of China and Japan, Joseon
was also stimulated by their new culture. Under the stimulus of China and Japan, Joseon envisioned an ideal city in detail, and the city established in a changing era embodied an ideal future. The ideal city as imagined in Joseon is shown in the new city of Hwaseong (華城) based upon the ruling philosophy of King Jeongjo (正祖, r. 1776–1880).
2. People, Captivated by the City
People in the city created a new urban culture that became a subject of folk paintings (風俗畵,pungsokhwa). Intellectuals, who became aware of information, knowledge, and advanced culture concentrated in the city, engaged in literary activities, decorating their gardens and studies. They played a major role in spreading a passion for paintings and calligraphy and an interest in scholars’ accoutrements and antiques. The rising power of leading urban culture was jungin (middle people). Jungin, who had risen as the leading group of Joseon society in the nineteenth century, created the exclusive cultural phenomenon of yeohang (閭巷, alleys where these middle people lived). Considering themselves to be agents of cultural creativity, the empowered jungin served as the beginning of modern intellects, experiencing enlightenment.
3. Art, Portraying the Sensibilities of the City
Abundant sophisticated products fueled the refined tastes of the city. A predilection to own and showcase such products prevailed throughout the city. Previously, the powerful upper class provided the major consumers; however, in the late Joseon dynasty, anyone with the financial means was equipped to easily acquire and enjoy these goods. Such shifts in the urban milieu affected the transformation of the contents and formats of art. Artists expressed themselves more vividly than ever before as the main agents of creation. They revealed their sensitivities and unconventional emotions rather than dwelling on the ideology and order of the past.
4. The City, Facing Modernity
Even before an understanding of the concept of modernity had emerged, new culture and products from the West flooded into the city of Hanyang. Artists had to seek changes once again in an unfamiliar environment. They endeavored to transform by studying abroad to learn about “Western paintings,” getting adjusted to new print media, such as photographs, newspapers, and magazines, or by making crafts as sales products, not in a workshop but in a manufactory. At the same time, they agonized over the realities of colonization and their own identities in the stream of modern culture. Such concerns of the modern era are reflected in the self-portraits of intellectuals of the city and in cityscapes depicting a mixture of the familiar past and the unfamiliar present.