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National Museum of Korea presents religious implication of Buddhist sculptures at Smithsonian

Seated wooden Avalokiteshvara, Goryeo Kingdom, 13th century (National Museum of Korea)
Seated wooden Avalokiteshvara, Goryeo Kingdom, 13th century (National Museum of Korea)
The National Museum of Korea held a symposium last week at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery to introduce the religious implication embedded in Korean Buddhist artifacts, the national museum said Tuesday.

The symposium -- held from Thursday to Friday at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, known as the Smithsonian’s Asian art museum -- coincided with the exhibition “Sacred Dedication: A Korean Buddhist Masterpiece,” jointly organized by the Freer Gallery, Sackler Gallery and National Museum of Korea. The exhibition opened in September and runs through March 22.

The loan exhibition features the 68-centimeter-tall seated wooden bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (“Gwaneum” in Korean) from the Goryeo Kingdom in the 13th century, which is the oldest surviving gilt wood figure in an informal pose. The Avalokiteshvara wears a separate crown made of metal and wood. Bokjangmul -- sacred texts and symbolic objects sealed inside the hollow sculpture at the time of its creation -- are on display along with the wooden sculpture.

This is the first time that Bokjangmul are being displayed with a Buddhist sculpture at an overseas exhibition, said Yang Su-mi, associate curator at the National Museum of Korea told the Korea Herald.

“The religious value is imposed only when Bokjangmul is dedicated to sculptures,” Yang said. “The exhibition doesn’t simply display a Buddhist sculpture. We tried to focus on the religious implication of the sculpture, and the symposium also focused on that.” 

Bokjangmul, votive objects (dedication materials) installed inside the statute (National Museum of Korea)
Bokjangmul, votive objects (dedication materials) installed inside the statute (National Museum of Korea)

The symposium was organized to strengthen cooperation between the National Museum of Korea and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. The national museum has additionally supported the gallery’s online project, showing its Korean artifact holdings to the public. 

According to the National Museum of Korea, the museum and Smithsonian Institution are planning another exhibition in 2022.

The Smithsonian Institution in Washington has two museums of Asian art: the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. The two museums have a combined 20,000 Asian artifacts, according to the National Museum of Korea.

By Park Yuna (yunapark@heraldcorp.com)
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