Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Airport Museum of Korean Culture

The Incheon International Airport has hosted a museum on Korean culture since 2008. The museum is not easily accessible but is found in the extension terminal, terminal 2, and only ticket-holders flying out of that terminal have access to the terminal and the museum. It's not easy to find either. To get there, as one comes up the escalator in the second terminal, the museum is located to the right and on the second floor. It’s my opinion that not many see or know about the museum as, for such a busy terminal that services a mega number of flights each day, I was rather surprised to hear that the museum only receives about 150 people on average a day. Older people and children are the most frequent visitors, foreigners comprise 50-60% of the visiting clientele, and middle-aged people and university students are a rare breed indeed to visit.

The museum collection is divided into four primary sections: The Royal Culture, Traditional Art, Traditional Music, and Print Culture. When I asked one of the tour guides (I think she's the same one who toured me around 2 years ago) about how the selection in the museum was made, she told me that all choices were made by the Director of the Korea National Museum. As I'm blogging before flying, I'm using the old brochure (pictured) and will enjoy another tour and the updated brochure when I go to the airport for my flight so I am yet unaware of how the museum has been changed within the last few months. Supposedly, three months ago major renovations of the museum took place and I'll be interested to see the changes and to know the selection process for the cultural treasures in the newly arranged museum. The museum is free and its purpose is to promote Korean culture ... so of course it's free!

So what's been in the museum since the museum's inception in 2008 until early 2012?


Jongmyo (Royal ancestral shrine)
[Historic Site No. 125]
Jongmyo has been dedicated in the ancestral tablets of successive kings, and Jeongjeon, the central building of the shrine is also called Taemyo exclusive of Yeongnyeongjeon [sic]. Jeongjeon was dedicated to the ancestral tablets of four ancestors [King Mokjo, King Ikjo, King Dojo and King Hwanjo] of King Taejo early in the Joseon Dynasty, but after that it was altered to the place for enshrining the spirit tablets of four ancestors [great-great grandfather, great grandfather, grandfather and father] of the then king and deserving kings and queens among successive kings during the Joseon Dynasty. Jongmyo was a place for memorial services where  the state attached the most importance together with the Sajikdan, a place for holding a ceremony to pray for the god of land and grain. For that reason, its style of building has the highest formality.

Dosanseowondo (Painting of dosanseowon)
[Treasures No. 522]
It was painted by Gang Sehwang [1712-1791], a literary artist in the later Joseon Dynasty, in 1751 (27th year in the reign of King Yeongjo) depicting the actual scenery of Dosan Private Academy. Seowon means a private education institute for holding a ceremony for the repose of great men and for studying Confucianism. Dosan Private Academy was first built to pay tribute to the memory of Lee Hwang with the nom de plume Toegye [1501-1570]. The painting depicts Dosan Private Academy and its surroundings in the style of the early Namyong Painting.

Donggwoldo (Painting of the Eastern Palace)
[National Treasure No. 249]
This is a record painting which depicts Changyeonggung (palace) and Changdeokgung (palace) east of Gyeongbokgung (palace). It is presumed to be painted before 1830 by the painters of the royal painting institute. It is a valuable material which shows the features of the then palace including accessory buildings. (As I have learned, this is the painting that has helped and is helping in the reconstruction of the palaces since many have been destroyed by fire from kitchen fires and the fires of invaders and by Japanese occupation.)


Seokgatap (pagoda at Bulguksa)
[National Treasure No. 21]
Korean stone art with the introduction of Buddhism. Stone sculptures reached maturity in the later Three Kingdom Dynasty and were at their height in the United Silla Dynasty. Seokgatap could be called the set pattern of stone pagodas in the Silla period owing to its supremacy in balance and formative beauty.

Naesosagoryeodongjong (Goryeo bronze bell of Naesosa Temple)
[Treasure No. 277]
Naesosagoryeodongjong is a Buddhist bell, which occupies the first place of Buddhist metal craftworks. In Buddhist countries, various kind of bells have been mainly made of copper.

Gamnodo (a Buddhist painting)
[Treasure No. 1239]
This painting depicts the ritual of providing with Amnita to save sentient beings who suffer from tortures of hell. It is the oldest painting in Korea.


Sound of Korea
(Music conveyed through touch-type computer panels and is referred to as Music Experiential Space) Meet the sound of saenghwang, the only Korean chord instrument, as well as drum, hourglass-shaped drum and the flute.


Mugujeonggwangdaedharanigyeong (Dharani Sutra)
[National Treasure No. 126)
This is a roll-type dharani sutra printed on Korean paper by wood-block printing. It was found in Seokgatap (also represented in this museum) when the pagoda was dismantled for repairs in 1966. It is the world's oldest wood-block print.

Hangeul (Korean alphabet)
Hangeul is phonogram [sic] invented by King Sejong and the scholars of Jiphyeonjeon, a royal research institute, in 1446. It is unprecedented in the world on account of its objective - a crusade against illiteracy. Principles of invention referring to the shape of sound-producing organs and heaven, earth and man, and obvious proclamation time [sic]. Hangeul has been a foundation of diverse cultures by filtering into the spirit and life of Korean people for the last 560 years [sic].

Worincheongangjigok (Songs of the Moon's Reflection on a Thousand Rivers)
[Treasure No. 398]
After Queen Soheon passed away in the 28th year of the reign of King Sejong (1446 AD], King Sejong ordered his son, Crown Prince Suyang [King Sejo-to-be], to translate a Buddhist book into Hangeul and compile it in order to pray for the repose of her and this is the result "Seokbo Sangjeol" [Episodes from the life of the Buddha.] Upon seeing his son's work of devotion, King Sejong was so moved by what his son had written that in the 29th year of the reign of King Sejong [1447 AD], he composed the hymns of praise known as the Songs of the Moon's Reflection on a Thousand Rivers, based on two phrases [sic].
OK, so I shamelessly copied what was in the brochure. In February 2012 on my last visit to the museum, I took pictures but the angles just aren't right and the lighting is so shadowy, so I'm not posting them. Anyway, the names of the tangible and intangible treasures are correct and sufficient for looking up more on each of the treasures in this museum if someone is inclined to do so. The items selected in this museum are a bit of an irony to me, as many of the artifacts reflect Buddhist culture which has not been mainstream since the reign of the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty, since King Sejong that is. But then maybe that does make sense because Confucianism was a philosophy that spurned ostentation and the material but focused more on the mind and the aesthetics of society. Confucianism therefore does not lend such an attractive display for a museum!

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