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Korean treasure house.

A new Korean gallery at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art is distinguished by an elemental austerity that acts as a backdrop for the richness of the art on display.

The new Korean Gallery at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art represents the culmination of the Met's encyclopaedic survey of Asian art begun over 30 years ago. Korean art is a rich yet largely unexplored tradition that has strong affinities with other Eastern cultures, particularly China. As if to emphasize this, the new gallery is located between the museum's much larger displays of Chinese and Indian art. Yet the room's modest size and minimal finishes also set it apart from its surroundings, hinting at the distinctive nature of Korea's indigenous traditions.

The Met is one of the first of the Western world's great museums to commission a dedicated gallery for Korean art, reflecting growing interest in the subject. Especially prized are Korean ceramics, characterized by intricate sanggam inlays made from crushed quartz or iron ore. Both the British Museum and Los Angeles County Museum of Art will open Korean galleries during next year.

Designed by Korean-American architect Kyu Sung Woo, the new gallery is a luminous white box that acts as a neutral backdrop to the treasures on show. Elegantly detailed glass cases for the display of ceramics, painting and sculpture run around the perimeter of the gallery. Within the cases are white mylar screens resembling rice paper; the plainness of the screens brings the rich colours and textures of the artworks into sharper relief. To reduce distracting glare, the glass panels are non-reflective. As displays are intended to change over time, flexibility and ease of use were important design considerations. A removable central partition allows for a variety of exhibition configurations, including the display of larger scroll paintings. A handful of movable freestanding cases can be used to show larger individual sculptures and ceramics.

Daylight is filtered and diffused through a pitched glazed roof masked by a white scrim of coarse, stretched cotton. This arrangement creates a luminous gash in the ceiling that bathes the gallery in a gentle radiance. Small, jewel-like spotlights supplement daylighting when required. Bleached white oak flooring rubbed with a grey stain intensifies the room's austerely functional quality. The oak flooring extends into the display cases, blurring the distinction between object and viewer and subtly heightening the gallery's sense of spaciousness. Door frames crafted in blackened steel plate mark the two openings into the gallery. Distinguished by simplicity, elegance and lightness, this modest space is exquisitely animated by the artefacts it houses.


Kyu Sung Woo, Cambrifge, USA

project team

Kyu Sung Woo, Timothy Downing, Steve Lacker, Andrew Wang

Lighting consultant

Fisher Marantz Renfro Stone


Chuck Choi
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Title Annotation:Korean gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City
Author:Slessor, Catherine
Publication:The Architectural Review
Date:Aug 1, 1999
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