The Honolulu Museum of Art was one of the first museums in the United States to have a gallery dedicated to Korean art,dating back to the founding of the museum in April of 1927. There is a good chance we are the first. However, as curator of Asian art Shawn Eichman put it, “Although we have one of the world’s finest collections of Korean art, we’ve never had a dedicated curator with the skills necessary to do justice to this collection.” That is until last month when—thanks to a generous grant from the Korea Foundation—Ga Young Oh began a year-long position as a visiting curator of Korean art.
One look at the art historian’s bio and you know she was born for the job. Her father was a Korean ceramics artist, she graduated from an arts-focused high school, she majored in Korean ceramics history and she is on sabbatical from her position as an assistant curator at the Gyeonggi Ceramic Museum near Seoul.
Before Ga Young even knew of the Honolulu Museum of Art’s curatorial opening, she was aware of our collection. “Five years ago I read a book published by the National Research Institute of Cultural Heritage in Korea about the museum’s Korean art collection,” she says. “I was impressed by the vastness and high quality of the collection, so when I saw the notification for this position on the Korea Foundation’s website I felt it was a great opportunity for me.”
Curator of Asian art Shawn Eichman says Ga Young’s arrival “marks an exciting, transforming moment in the history of our museum.” (It’s also a transformative time for her—“This is my first time away from home,” she reveals, and for the first time has had to open a bank account, get a cell phone plan, and find a place to live. “My coworkers are so supportive, thanks to them I’ve had no serious problems adjusting to life here.”)
Ga Young has a long to-do list. First she’s doing general exploration. “The museum’s Korean collection has a long history, dating back to the establishment of the museum, I want to uncover the history of that collection.”
Then she will go deep into surveying ceramics—the core of the museum’s Korean art collection—for an exhibition on celadon ceramics of the Goryeo period (918-1392) slated for August 2015. “This is Ga Young’s research specialization, so she is the perfect person to organize this exhibition for us,” says Eichman.
By mining through Korean collection records and updating and expanding on them where necessary, and giving lectures, Ga Young will help shed new light on the works. allowing the museum to better communicate the significance of the collection, develop cultural educational programming, and engage the Korean community in Hawai‘i in ways that we couldn’t before.
When asked what she hopes to get out of her time here at the museum, Ga Young replies, “I want to perceive Korean art and culture from a global perspective. What is the place of Korean art on a global stage?”
More Korean art: Learn about one of Ga Young’s favorite works in the collection.