The V&A championed Korean art, starting with the large display of LeBlond’s Korean ceramics in 1918, the first significant presentation of Korean art in a British museum. Its Catalogue of the LeBlond Collection of Corean Pottery became the first volume dedicated to Korean art published by a British institution. In 1961, the V&A was chosen by the South Korean Government to host the exhibition ‘The National Art Treasures of Korea’, the first of its kind in Europe. It was thus a natural development for the Museum to open in 1992 the first permanent gallery devoted to Korean art in London.
Today its Korean collection holds over 1000 objects that span from the Three Kingdoms period (57BC–668AD) to the present day. Unlike other museums where they are confined to ethnographical/archaeological departments and galleries, these objects are spread and displayed across material-based departments. Thanks to the Museum’s 1990s impetus on collecting the contemporary, the V&A boasts the widest collection of contemporary Korean craft and design in UK. With the appointment of a full-time curator funded by Samsung UK in 2012, the V&A led the way on Korean craft and design events. The V&A thus provides a rich array of collections and contexts in which Korean craft and design can be compared, as well as providing a complex site within which to consider cultural diplomacy, national identity and international sponsorship.
With a focus on the V&A’s Korean collection of contemporary craft and design, this project will ask:
- What is contemporary Korean craft and design?Are they understood the same way in Korea and UK
- The V&A’s Korean collection grew initially in an opportunistic rather than strategic manner. A significant shift occurred in the early 1990s due to the Museum’s new collecting policy and the establishment of its Korean gallery. This period coincided with the rise of Korea on the international scene and its increasing interest in the arts and creative industries:
- How did the Korean collection evolve over time and how was it shaped by wider national and international contexts, especially the soft power of international diplomacy from the 1990s?
- How did the V&A source, fund and display its contemporary Korean materials? Who selected and interpreted them?
- How does the current contemporary Korean craft and design collection relate/compare to the V&A’s ‘historical’ collection?
- How have these acquisitions reflected/challenged Korean craft and design practices in the past and present?
- In what new ways might the V&A expand and exhibit Korean craft and design collection for an international audience?
With the South Korean government’s globalisation and cultural liberalisation policies at the dawn of 21st century, economic and cultural values of craft and design were re-examined, setting a national ambition of becoming the new design hub of Asia. In this context, studies on historical or contemporary Korean craft and design also began to emerge. Within South Korea, critics and academics presented narratives of Korean design and craft but academic publications on these subjects in English are few in number. In the UK, academic debates on craft and design were led by western scholars and have traditionally been confined to the Euro-American world. An increasing body of literature has explored the emergence of contemporary design in India, China and Japan, particularly within a diplomatic and economic context but these emerging debates cannot be easily transferred to Korea, where decolonising discourses (Japan/Cold War), the Neo-Confucian backdrop and modern history (late democracy/rapid economic and technological development/pop-culture) have deeply affected the production and consumption of craft and design. Survey literature on the V&A’s Korean collection was published in 1992 and 2013 but little space was given to its contemporary holdings and the historical development of the collection over time. This studentship, therefore, will address these gaps in the existing scholarship and make a significant and original contribution to the understanding of Korean contemporary craft and design.
The student will spend regular weekly time at the V&A in order to understand the contents, scope, and organisation of Korean contemporary craft and design in the V&A’s collection and learn professional museum practices and policies. The student will be expected to attend the research training programme delivered by University of Brighton Doctoral College.