Nov. 7, 1996
Vol. 16, No. 5

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    The Fragrance of Ink


    Exhibition of rare Korean works grace walls of Smart Museum "The Fragrance of Ink: Korean Literati Paintings of the Choson Dynasty (1392-1910) from the Korea University Museum" -- an exhibition of 62 rare works from the seldom-seen collection of Korea University in Seoul -- continues at the Smart Museum of Art.

    Ink paintings, hanging scrolls, album leaves, fans and screens are among the works on exhibition, which is the first American presentation devoted exclusively to the literati painting of Korea's last royal dynasty.

    Organized jointly by the Korean Studies Institute and the Korea University Museum, the exhibition is being circulated in the United States by the Smart Museum of Art. The exhibition was on view at Columbia before coming to Chicago, and it will travel during 1997 to three other universities: the University of Oregon, UCLA and Berkeley.

    The collaboration is the Smart Museum's first partnership with institutions in Korea.

    "As we build our collections in Asian art generally, and in Korean art particularly, we hope to play a major role in increasing understanding of Korean art on the University of Chicago campus and in the greater Chicago community," said Kimerly Rorschach, Director of the Smart Museum of Art.

    The exhibition, which includes works by some of the most significant painters of the period, charts the complex trajectory of Choson painting and its most prominent stylistic developments.

    Originally the designation "literati painting" was limited to works painted by China's Confucian scholars, the educated elite in government service who painted as a form of self-cultivation and relaxation. Korean literati painting encompasses not only paintings by scholars but also the works of court painters and professional artists.

    As in China and Japan, Korean literati painting is closely aligned with the arts of writing and literature, both in materials used and in the choice of subjects. The materials of the artists are those of the calligrapher: brush and ink, paper and silk. To this the artists added pale washes and sometimes rich, opaque colors. Often a poem or descriptive text, which makes reference to classical Chinese texts, appears on a painting. Themes include idealized landscapes, bamboo and orchids, all of which have rich associations in China and Korea as symbols of the character and aspirations of the Confucian scholar.

    The exhibition encompasses such prominent stylistic developments as the reception and creative adaptation by Korean artists of painting traditions from China -- notably the Ming court style known as the Zhe School, which was associated with academic painters, and the so-called Southern School of the Qing dynasty, which was favored by amateur painters. It also represents the rise of a national painting style in the 17th century in the form of the "true view" landscape, which features scenes of actual Korean sites, such as the revered Diamond Mountains, rather than the idealized mountains and valleys of Chinese painting.

    "The Fragrance of Ink" will be on display through Dec. 8. For information on related events, including a symposium and weekly tours, call 702-0200. See the Calendar, pages 6-7, for museum hours and other information.