Organized Panel Session
With the opening of Joseon’s ports in the late nineteenth century, American and European collectors of East Asian art turned their attention to Korea and its cultural heritage. In particular ceramics drew their interest with stonewares of the Goryeo kingdom (918-1392) being regarded as the most desirable Korean collectibles. In the 1910s and 1920s hundreds of Goryeo ceramics were sold by dealers in Korea and Japan leading to large-scale collections being formed in America and Europe. Interest in Korean art continued into the 1930s when it was said that “almost every public collection of East Asiatic Art in America and Europe [has] a Korean section.” By then acquisitions were no longer exclusively focused on Goryeo ceramics, though they constituted the mainstay of collections. Also an increasing number of objects from the Joseon kingdom (1392-1910) entered the market, despite the fact that only a few decades earlier, Western collectors had dismissed them as being of poor quality and without artistic merit.
This paper addresses the shift in collecting interests from Goryeo ceramics to Joseon artefacts that began in the late 1920s when fewer Goryeo wares became available for sale, prices rose considerably, more fakes were sold, and increasingly stringent Japanese export laws made it difficult to source antiques directly from Korea. It will question whether and how this resulted in acquisitions of Joseon artefacts. Moreover, it will examine whether this change in collecting interests mirrored a broader shift in terms of how Korea, its past and its present, was understood.