Ah, the power of books to cast a spell over the reader. Or over the simple observer: the Weltmuseum’s Chaekgeori exhibition introduces us to a Korean form of art that draws on the symbolism and influence of books, bookshelves and other items.
- Still-life painting genre that flourished in the later periods of the Joseon dynastic era
- Exhibition features works from contemporary Korean artists
- Runs April 21, 2022 – April 11, 2023
- See also:
Our shelves. Our selves.
(Lost in books 첩첩산중, CHUNG Jae Eun 정재은, 2019 © CHUNG Jae Eun 정재은)
Art exhibitions in Austria tend to follow a Eurocentric path, inevitably reflecting the provenance of local collections. One of the joys of Vienna’s Weltmuseum is experiencing art, culture and history rarely explored in a central European country.
The Chaekgeori exhibition aptly illustrates this welcome expanding of horizons.
The Korean term translates literally as books and things, which hints at the subjects of this field of still-life painting.
The genre blossomed during the latter part of the Joseon dynastic era that lasted from around 1392 to 1897. Emerging under Chinese influence at the royal court, the concept spread into wider Korean society to become a feature of folk painting, too.
Books and bookshelves form a staple of Chaekgeori, along with decorative, scholarly, representative and precious objects perhaps interwoven with (or positioned as) motifs. Whereby “precious” need not only imply material worth.
The paintings are both documentation and symbolic representation, perhaps an expression of sentiments or position, and a paeon to the scholarly spirit.
Chaekgeori continues today, and the Weltmuseum’s exhibition draws on works by contemporary Korean artists. The paintings combine traditional elements with modern images (including video installations) and a more abstract touch at times.
The genre perhaps reflects a kind of wistful optimism in modern times, given the continuing role of books as containers of knowledge and wisdom, and despite the competition for our attention from shorter, digital, transient forms of writing.
The paintings certainly have a bright freshness to them and pull your eyes around each work as you spot objects, motifs, and little surprises, such as a golf bag among wooden chests and painted vases.
I particularly enjoyed:
- Treasure Island by SoEun Park, with piles of books rather than coins; an allegory for my own enormous TBR pile.
- Library 3 by Kyoung Tac. Like a colourful version of one of those second-hand bookshops with seemingly never-ending nooks, crannies, and disorder. And the surfaces covered by a myriad of objects, toys and knickknacks with the occasional dark tinge (such as an eyeless doll’s head or animal skull)
Dates & tickets
Dive into Korean art from April 21st, 2022 to April 11th, 2023. A normal entrance ticket to the Weltmuseum includes access to the exhibition.
For much of that time (from late June), you can move about 10,000km south and east for more contemporary art in the form of a solo exhibition for renowned Maori artist, George Nuku. His installation Bottled Ocean 2122 also appears in the Theseus temple in the Volksgarten park.
Note that a Vienna Pass (my review) also includes one-time entry to the Weltmuseum.
How to get there
See the main Weltmuseum article for travel tips, but the museum sits in a wing of the Hofburg palace complex in Vienna’s old town. The exhibition occupies three rooms on the first floor surrounding the sides of the atrium.
Incidentally, the café in that tall and columned atrium makes a good spot to rest feet weary from wandering the usual tourist paths through the centre.
Address: Heldenplatz, 1010 Vienna