Grand Style Accessories Coming to The Asian Art Museum

20 Sep

Printing out the object list for the forthcoming Asian Art Museum’s smashing
next exhibit prompted an unexpected whimsical response. The exhibit, scheduled to open October 25, 2013 and close January 12,2014 is largely drawn from the Korean National Museum, with a few additional objects from other Korean Museums and Institutions. At the touring docent preview we were told the objects would number 110.

Wisely, the selections embrace the domestic life of the Joseon Dynasty as well as
seals, scroll painting of important figures and a number of memorial panoramas of state occasions, charming in their detail, staggering in what they represent in terms of numbers of participants, their elegant garments and the production of those elaborate state code vestments.

What caught my eye as I scrolled down past images of seals, umbrellas, document boxes, were some clearly feminine hair accessories, Even today, one can see a Korean woman, her luxuriant head of hair, an ornament cutting through her bun of hair with dagger- like resolution.

What makes them even more amazing to my eyes is the description with the statement “Important Folklore Material of Korea, National Palace Museum of Korea. Returned from the Tokyo National Museum in 1992.”

I counted eight such objects, adorned with jade, pearls, coral, silver plate.
Close to the end of the list were three accessory boxes, again with the
identification “Important Folklore Material of Korea, National Palace Museum of Korea. Returned from Tokyo National Museum in 1992.” The three are described as made of wood, silk, paper, gold and ivory. What the list does not say is just
when these feminine objects and containers left Korea for Japan, but one can easily speculate that some high level samurai in one of Hideyoshi Toyotomo’s two invasions purloined the objects taking them back to his wife or mistress, and perhaps in one of the three elegant boxes. Of course, the spoils might also have been the result of the Annexation of 1910; my fancy leans towards the former.

What enhances the connections for me is that Yanagi Soetsu was inspired by his
visit to Korea during the Japanese occupation to start what has become the Korean National Folk Museum, before returning to commence his collection of Japanese folk crafts comprising the Mingei Museum in Tokyo. Yanagi’s The Unknown Craftsman drew its initial inspiration from that trip to Korea.

Those hair ornaments fulfill most of Yanagi’s requirements for folk art which
include: made by hand; used by the general public; functional in daily life; characteristic of region where produced. The objects falter in two respects:
made by hand in quantity and inexpensive. Truly, who cares when embellishing
the head of a beautiful Korean woman.

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