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00707012
2012.04
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KOREAN

Korean Gallery Opens at Leading Swedish Museum  Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities’ New East Asian Project

The Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm opened a permanent Korean Gallery on February 11, after two years of preparation. Highlighting a cozy private ambience and Korean architectural motifs, the Korean gallery was created in accordance with an agreement signed by the Swedish museum and the Korea Foundation in 2009.

Arms Storage Converted into Korean Gallery

Dr. Mette Siggstedt, a senior curator at the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, who was responsible for overseeing the Korean Gallery, selected my architectural firm to be the project designer during her visit to Korea in 2009. As the reason for her choice, she explained how she had been impressed by the “Megacity Network: Contemporary Korean Architecture” exhibition that toured Europe, in which I participated, and my expertise in designing traditional Korean-style houses.

The Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities is located on Skeppsholmen, one of Stockholm’s many islands, for which the city is known as the “Venice of Northern Europe.” It is an excellent location, adjacent to the

Museum of Modern Art, the Architecture Museum, and the National Museum of Sweden. Renovated by Swedish architect Nicodemus Tessin in the 18th century, the building that now houses the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities was formerly used by the Swedish Navy, as suggested by its name, Tyghuset (Arsenal). The building itself has considerable limitations as a museum facility because of its unusual configuration of 200 meters in length but only 9 meters in width.


During my visit to the museum in May 2010, I found its Chinese collection to be overwhelmingly dominant, while the space allocated for the Korean Gallery was a storage area of merely 131 square meters. Since there was a floor level difference of 49cm between the gallery space and the corridor, about one-fourth of the project area had to be allotted for a wheelchair ramp for the disabled. Moreover, the gallery could only be entered via either the Chinese Gallery or the Japanese Gallery, because it was situated at the very end of the visitor circulation. Overall, there were only a limited number of artifacts to be exhibited in a confined space with a less than desirable environment, let alone the need to comply with strict building regulations. It seemed to be a considerable challenge to creatively overcome those constraints.



Illumination of Hanok in Sweden

I decided that “Uniquely Intimate” would be the design theme of the Korean Gallery. Korea and Sweden share common sentiments in that both nations have a deep love for nature and an overwhelming penchant for wood as an architectural material. It seemed I had to create a design that the people of both countries could easily relate to. Thus, I placed benches here and there in the Korean Gallery so that visitors could view exhibits from a seated perspective while enjoying warmth from the heating units installed inside the benches. Interestingly enough, there is a kind of floor-sitting lifestyle in Northern Europe, too. Some chairs are built very low, and people often remove their shoes when they go indoors.

Illumination of Hanok in Sweden

I chose light as the key design element. Some curators say Korean artifacts are difficult to display because they lack a strong visual impact, but I believe this quality can be accentuated as unique visual appeal. For instance, Korean portraits seldom had three-dimensional effects before Western painting techniques were introduced. Korean portrait painters in pre-modern times didn’t use shading, let alone the rules of perspective. However, the extremely delicate quality of these paintings comes alive beautifully when they are viewed in an indirect light of moderate intensity. To create such illumination, indirect lighting was installed above exposed wooden beams on the ceiling.

Then I requested the museum to re-open the three blocked windows on the southern wall of the gallery, on the grounds that “Koreans communicate with outside through light.” An additional window covered with traditional Korean mulberry paper was attached to each of these windows, which created a subtle lighting effect reminiscent of the cozy atmosphere inside a traditional Korean house, or hanok, as well as the mysterious moonlight over Sweden’s snowy landscape.

Display Artifacts for Viewer Understanding

Display Artifacts for Viewer Understanding The museum said they assigned a Korean architect to design the gallery, not a Swedish architect, to facilitate “cultural understanding of the exhibits.” Yet, the museum officials did not want a straightforward replication of a typical Korean-style house. To meet their expectations, we spent a considerable time studying the museum’s Korean collection along with their curators. As a result, a portrait of Jeong Seong-geun, painted by Chae Yong-sin (1850-1941), a famous portrait painter during late Joseon to the colonial period, was selected as the centerpiece of the Korean Gallery.

With an array of artifacts displayed around the portrait, we tried to create the atmosphere of an individual’s personal space. This served to emphasize the intimate and individual characteristics of Korean culture, setting it apart from Chinese and Japanese culture. In this gallery, visitors do not have to move along any prescribed line but can freely experience diverse perspectives and orientations. This principle of layout was borrowed from the old house of Yun Taek, a 17th century nobleman in Haenam, South Jeolla Province. A pair of gold earrings of Silla, which are believed to have been excavated from the Lucky Phoenix Tomb (Seobongchong) in Gyeongju, were exhibited near the entrance to the gallery in the hope that the artifacts would inspire active academic debate and cultural exchange between the two nations in the years ahead. The ancient Korean tomb, which yielded rich artifacts including a gold crown, became famous as Swedish Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf visited its excavation site in 1926.


Elegantly Restrained Presentation

The Svenska Dagbladet, an influential Swedish newspaper, published an article by Eva Backstedt, commenting: “The Korean Gallery, designed by Korean architect Hwang Doo-jin, is absolutely congenial to the collection, well, a work of art. The gallery is not large, and the objects are not many, but I'm sure that an aficionado can sit there for hours, without even noticing time passing.” Some museums overwhelm visitors, while others seek to provide enlightenment. The Korean Gallery pursues empathy in restraint by delivering a sense of intimacy and comfort. As suggested by the newspaper article quoted above, the Swedish people seem to understand this concept well. I hope the Korean Gallery will help spread a steady and continuous interest in Korean culture in Sweden and beyond.

Hwang Doo-jin Architect

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