The South Korean people have had the chance to see exhibitions of some well-known American artists — Andy Warhol and Keith Haring, among others — in recent years, but until “Art Across America” came to Seoul, they hadn’t seen a comprehensive exhibition showing the history of American art.
The exhibition, 168 artworks including portraits, landscape paintings, decorative artifacts and Native American art, opened earlier this month at the National Museum of Korea in the heart of the country’s capital, Seoul.
It is a collaboration among the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Terra Foundation for American Art and the Korean museum, which will send a collection of Korean art from the Chosun period to the three museums next year.
The show in Seoul brought together works of American artists representative of their time and region. From the portrait of upper-class American immigrants in the late 18th century by Charles Willson Peale to action painting by Jackson Pollock in 1950, the exhibition crosses time and distance, from the Colonial period to post-World War II America, from the East Coast to the West.
“I think there’s something specifically characteristic about American art, which is its directness,” said LACMA Director Michael Govan, who visited Seoul for the opening. “American art always tried to be direct, whether it’s the portrait or the landscape in its scale.”
Among the pieces contributed by LACMA for the show are John Singleton Copley’s “Portrait of a Lady” (1771), Thomas Moran’s “Hot Spring of the Yellowstone” (1872), “Mother About to Wash Her Sleepy Child” (1880) by Mary Cassatt and “Horse’s Skull With Pink Rose” (1931) by Georgia O’Keeffe.
The last part of the show, which focuses on American art after 1945, has a section entitled “California Design After 1945,” which features furniture by Charles and Ray Eames and highlights the growth in popularity of practical design in the mid-20th century. All of the pieces are from LACMA, and some of them were featured in the museum’s popular Pacific Standard Time show “California Design: Living in a Modern Way, 1930-1965.”
“Untitled” (1966-67), LACMA’s lighted disc by Robert Irwin, is the show’s final piece.
Cho Eun-suk, an editor who said she was in her 30s, came to see the show. “Through the exhibition I was able to learn that while the Americans were influenced by the Europeans, they found something of their own as time went by,” she said.
The “Art Across America” show will travel to the Daejeon Museum of Art and will wrap up in September. The National Museum of Korea’s Chosun period (1392-1897) art collection will be coming to LACMA and the other participating museums.
“We hope that we can talk about the similarities and the differences between our great nations and visual traditions,” said Elizabeth Glassman, chief executive of Terra Foundation.
The program will allow LACMA, which has the biggest Korean art collection on the West Coast, to show even more.
“LACMA plays a vital role in cultural life in L.A. and Koreans in L.A.,” said LACMA Chinese and Korean Art department head Stephen Little. “We’ve always have had a strong relationship with Korea. This year, we’ve gotten a grant from National Museum of Korea to renovate our Korean galleries so we can put many more objects [on display] from storage, and to borrow major works and treasures to show at LACMA.”