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“46 Masterpieces of Lacquerware from National Museums of East Asia Exhibited Together”

-2024 Joint Special Exhibition of National Museums of Korea, Japan, and China

Lacquerware of East Asia Opens-

Exhibition Title: Lacquerware of East Asia

Exhibition Period: Wednesday, July 10–Sunday, September 22, 2024

Venue: Special Exhibition Gallery, National Museum of Korea

Objects on display: 46 pieces including ‘Lacquered Sutra Box with mother-of-pearl inlay(Treasure)’ from the National Museum of Korea Collection, ‘Maki-e Box with Chrysanthemum Design’ from the Tokyo National Museum Collection, and ‘Black Lacquered Qin’ from the National Museum of China.

Organizing Institution: National Museum of Korea, Tokyo National Museum,

National Museum of China

Organizers: The National Museum of Korea, the Tokyo National Museum in Japan

and the National Museum of China in China

The National Museum of Korea (Director General Kim Jae Hong) holds a joint special exhibition titled Lacquerware of East Asia from Wednesday, July 10th to Sunday, September 22nd, in collaboration with the national museums of Korea, Japan, and China.

1. Special Exhibition Linked with the “Directors’ Meeting of National Museums of Korea, Japan, and China”

- Strengthening the Friendship and Communication, and Introducing Each Nation’s Unique Culture -

This special exhibition is held in conjunction with the directors’ meeting of the national museums of Korea, Japan, and China, which has been held annually since 2006 to promote cooperation and exchanges among the museums. Since 2012, it was agreed to hold a joint special exhibition around the three countries biennially with a theme encompassing the cultures of the three countries. The order of the countries mentioned is the host country of the exhibition of the year followed by the next hosting country. Since 2014, various themes encompassing the cultures of the three countries, such as ceramics, paintings, and bronzes, have been explored in these exhibitions.

2. Jointly Planned Special Exhibition by National Museums of Korea, Japan, and China

- Outstanding Natural Lacquer from the Three Countries -

The theme of this exhibition is “lacquerware.” The reason for this selection is that all three countries traditionally used a natural lacquer made from the sap of lacquer trees to create various lacquerware. Coming in contact with the sap can cause severe itching or swelling, which are known to be caused by urushiol from the lacquer tree. Lacquer trees grow in many parts of the world. In East Asia, sap containing urushiol has been commonly used in all three countries—Korea, Japan, and China. Lacquerware from the three countries is resistant to moisture and pests, making it exceptionally durable, even underground for over a thousand years. This is due to the urushiol component—a lacquer acid. Superior to Western varnish, lacquer is a traditional coating material prominent in Asia. Lacquerware has been made as both utilitarian objects and high-quality crafts in the three countries for thousands of years. The lacquerware from Korea, Japan, and China showcases centuries of skills demonstrating the patience and craftsmanship of its makers. The exhibition aims to understand the different histories and cultures of lacquer art in the three countries by featuring approximately 15 selected lacquer artifacts from each nation. The exhibition also aims to convey a message of environmental protection for the future, in which the lacquer serves as a testament to the coexistence between nature and humans.

3. Exhibition Planning Intent and Detailed Composition

- Gluing, Sprinkling, and Carving: The Unique Characters of Lacquerware of East Asia -

The exhibition brings together 46 lacquerware objects showcasing the diverse beauty and individuality of each country based on lacquer techniques shared in Asia. Focusing on the decorative techniques that embellish the surfaces of solid lacquer foundation, the exhibition highlights Korea’s mother-of-pearl lacquerware created by gluing the iridescent mother-of-pearl, Japan’s maki-e lacquerware made with sprinkled gold powder, and China’s carved lacquer with intricate designs carved on layers of lacquer.

Part 1: China – Long History, Diverse Techniques, and Exquisite Carving Skills

China has developed lacquer techniques over thousands of years, from ancient times to the Ming and Qing dynasties, producing a wide range of lacquerware from simple utilitarian items to elaborate decorative crafts. Chinese lacquerware also influenced distant regions through trade routes like the Silk Road. Among the various lacquerware techniques in China, the exhibition highlights the technique of carved lacquer—a lacquer technique which embraces the skills of lacquer, painting and carving altogether. The carved lacquer includes tihong, which carves onto the layers of red lacquer, and tixi, which carves onto the alternating layers of red and black lacquer, and ticai, which carves onto the layers of multi-color lacquer. The exhibition features lacquerware objects including a “Ming dynasty table with cloud design” made using the tixi technique, and a “container with landscape and figure design” made using the tihong technique from the Qianlong period of the Qing dynasty.

Part 2: Korea – 1000 Years of Radiance, Mother-of-Pearl Lacquerware

Korea has uniquely developed mother-of-pearl lacquerware (najeonchilgi) through the Goryeo and Joseon dynasties. Artifacts made in this technique appeared from the Goryeo dynasty, but the technical advancement seen in the Goryeo dynasty objects indicates a highly developed tradition predating the surviving artifacts. Mother-of-pearl lacquerware, shimmering in iridescent, pearl-like colors depending on the angles has been cherished in Korea for a thousand years. The intricate Goryeo lacquerware known for its exquisite craftsmanship continued its tradition into Joseon lacquerware, which places emphasis on moderation and avoids excessive luxury, known as “splendid but not extravagant.” Joseon lacquerware underwent changes in patterns and forms through the Japanese invasion and the Qing invasions of the 16th and 17th centuries, respectively. By the 19th century, a variety of items began to be embellished with lacquerware decorations, indicating its wider spread. The exhibited objects include two Goryeo dynasty lacquerware (including a treasure) and a “comb box with phoenix, flower, bird, and pine tree design.” The exhibition also features Joseon dynasty lacquerware showing various patterns and techniques, including a “two-tiered wardrobe with longevity symbols” donated by the late Lee Kun-Hee.

Part 3: Japan – Maki-e Lacquerware, Paintings with Gold and Silver

Japan's prominent lacquer technique is maki-e, which was significantly developed during the Heian period (8th–12th century). The togidashi maki-e technique was popular throughout the Heian period. This basic technique of maki-e involves drawing patterns on the lacquerware surface with lacquer, sprinkling gold or silver powder on top, applying additional layer of lacquer over the entire surface, and then polishing the surface to reveal the drawn patterns underneath. In the Kamakura period (12th–14th century), the taka maki-e technique, which is a maki-e with raised patterns, emerged that added depth to maki-e expressions. The exhibition presents various maki-e lacquerware, including a sutra box with lotus pond design made with the togidashi maki-e technique, and nanban lacquerware exported to Europe. It also exhibits lacquerware related to tea culture, and inro (case) that showcases the owner's status and taste.

The National Museum of Korea anticipates that this exhibition will serve as an opportunity for the three countries to deepen their mutual understanding and strengthen their cooperation through continuous exchange, much like creating a masterpiece of lacquerware through enduring effort and perseverance.

ㅇ For more detailed information and materials related to the press release, please contact Oh Seeun, a curator in the Word Arts Division of the NMK, at 02-2077-9553.


1. Exhibition Posters

2. Exhibition Highlights

(Eng)PRLacquerware of East Asia.zip