Across a nearly 10-meter span, thousands of soldiers and government officials march in a 19th century painting of a royal procession, each figure just about the size of a human finger nail. In another painting, changing faces of the Korean landscape to the tune of four seasons stretch across a piece of paper no wider than 7 centimeters.
A simple initial glance at these paintings – on display at Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art as part of a special exhibition titled “The Court Painters of Joseon Dynasty” – will be enough to convince you of their grandness in scale and delicacy in depiction. But it’s only after a closer look, which reveals the kind of finesse and precision with which these paintings were worked at, that you become truly mesmerized with the works of Korea’s best artists during Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910).
So Leeum tried something very unique to help the audience experience the exhibition, running through Jan. 29 in Seoul, to its finest detail. Placed next to these articulate works of art are Galaxy Tabs, which visitors can use to zoom into a particular section of the paintings for a closer look on a wide screen before you.
With the Galaxy Tab, one can re-live the Royal Palanquin Procession, catching everything from each of the participants’ facial expression to the gentle wave of a horse’s mane. A soldier dosing off while seated on a horse or one turning around for a chat with his fellow soldier during the royal march is the kind of details that are essential in appreciating this art piece, but also things that could be easily missed were it not for the Galaxy Tab.
So what did court painters do and why are they so important in understanding the history of Korean art? And how did Leeum come up with an idea of using electronic devices to view artworks? We were lucky to have Jiyoon Jo, who organized this exhibition, explain them to us on a recent visit to the museum.
Samsung Village (SV): We see the exhibition adopted a number of interesting features like using the Galaxy Tab to view the paintings. How did you come up with that idea?
Jiyoon: We wanted to help the audience overcome the perception that old paintings are boring by introducing high-tech methods of enjoying them. Besides, one of the true beauties of these paintings lies in how they captured even the smallest of the details and we wanted the audience to see these fine details for themselves. Using the Galaxy Tab was the best way of doing just that.
An exhibition should be more than just hanging art pieces on the wall, but displaying them effectively in a way that could best communicate with the public. We hoped to mark a landmark in art exhibition by adopting new methods of a modern touch that could create more values in viewing old Joseon paintings.
SV: How did one become a court painter during Joseon Dynasty and what kind of work did they do?
Jiyoon: Court painters called Hwawon were chosen through an examination, which tested their talent and skills in art. Belonging to Dohwaseo, a government bureau of painting, they were widely responsible for recording official and public activities. In addition to creating documentary paintings, they produced decorative paintings, portraits, maps, illustrations in printed materials, as well as drawings on ceramics.
SV: So they were largely government officials who recorded history in the form of art?
Jiyoon: Yes, but they were more than that. Besides the official court projects, Hwawon also accepted private commissions from wealthy families and individuals. This helped Hwawon contribute to forming new artistic trends in the private sector, creating works reflecting contemporary subjects and popular styles.
SV: So what motivated you to organize this exhibition?
Jiyoon: Hwawon were responsible for such a wide range of works and played such a significant role in shaping the landscape of art during Joseon Dynasty, but there has never been an exhibition fully dedicated to their works. This was in part due to the fact that they were low-ranked officials, who were just regarded as technicians rather than artists. We wanted to raise public awareness of Hwawon’s important contribution to the history of Korean art as the best artists of the time.
Among other modern technology features of the exhibition are projecting the moving image of Royal Palanquin Procession onto a screen to imitate the actual march and the projected electronic blue print of the palace on the floor.
There is also a photo zone where you can actually pop into one of the masterpieces by Joseon court painters! An interactive program takes a picture of you and inserts that image into the painting, as shown below:
You can become the very model a masterpiece!
You can also get a taste of what painting with a traditional brush and ink is like near the end of the exhibition, which is sponsored by Samsung Life Insurance and Samsung Electronics.
So for those of you in Seoul, what do you say to indulging in the mystic beauty of old Joseon court paintings this weekend – the high-tech style?