August 7, 2012

Smart Museum curator’s travels informed From the Land of the Morning Calm.

Nearly every fall for over a decade, Smart Museum Senior Curator Richard A. Born has traveled to Korea to attend the Korea Foundation’s annual art workshop for curators at overseas museums. The workshop invites curators and other professionals from institutions of all sizes to explore Korean art and culture through a rich, two-week-long program of lectures, seminars, and “awe-inspiring” visits to palaces, temples, and historic sites. For Born, these trips have had a profound effect on his development as a curator.

When Born joined the Smart Museum in 1980, he was its sole curator and responsible for the whole of its collection. But as the Museum grew and the number of curators increased, he began to focus on modern art and design and the arts of Asia, particularly East Asia. In 1986, the Smart acquired by bequest its first Korean ceramics—and, with that donation, Born became the de facto Korean art curator.

At the time, this unusual twinning of curatorial fields wasn’t extraordinary. According to Born, “most of the workshop’s early participants held no university study in the art and culture of the Korean Peninsula, and instead came from backgrounds of Chinese or Japanese visual culture, or rarely, as in my own situation, from Western art history.” By bringing together these far-flung professionals, the workshops helped build—in a relatively short time—a global network of museum curators working with Korean art.

Each workshop offers a rich combination of lectures and symposia that frequently present scholarship not yet available in English publications and that cover subjects spanning prehistory to the present day. They gave Born a solid grounding in Korean art studies and a refined approach to the care of objects already in the Smart Museum’s collection, and also “a more focused and decisive” plan to develop this core area of the permanent collection.

Born too has “gained a profound respect for all the arts of Korea as both aesthetic objects and expressions of cultural identity.” This summer, his years of travel and study culminated in the special exhibition From the Land of the Morning Calm—a stunning testament to the lasting impact that the Korean Foundation workshops have had, and will continue to have, on the Smart Museum’s collections and programs.

From the Land of the Morning Calm is currently on display at the Smart Museum through September 9, 2012. Though registration for all related events is full, visitors may enjoy the exhibit during the museum’s public hours.

Richard A. Born