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LACMA Hammer Building: Korean and Chinese Art

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Kathryn Sutherland
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LACMA Hammer Building: Korean and Chinese Art

On view on the first floor of the Hammer Building at LACMA, right next to the main ticket box office, there is a beautiful and comprehensive exhibition of Chinese and Korean ceramics and art. The LACMA's collection of Korean and Chinese art is extensive, and only a small portion is on view, but what you can see spans over 20 centuries of history in Korea and China.  The set-up of the galleries implores the visitor to compare and contrast works made in China and in Korea: walk left, and you'll see Korean art and pottery, from the first century to the 21st; walk to the right, and you'll see art and pottery from China, from many centuries ago up to today.  The modern is mixed in with the ancient, attempting to weave continuity through the ages.  

For younger students, an interesting task with layers of complexity would be to have them look at jars from China and Korea, and have them look for similarities and differences not only between the two countries, but also through time.  For older students, I would be really interested to see if they could pick out two jars or works of art from the same time period, and applying what they know about China or Korea during that time period, make inferences about why the art is similar or different.

Personally, my favorite part of the gallery was the display of Korean badges.  Five beautifully embroidered badges from the 19th century Choson Dynasty are on display, each conveying a different governmental rank.  Different ranks get different animals associated with it--Imperial rank gets a mythical creature, military rank gets leaopards or tigers, and civil service officers get cranes.  Besides being beautiful to look at, these badges lend themselves to the questions: why did each animal get chosen for each position? And what are the badges meant to convey? Both would lead to a great discussion among students of all ages.  

I would highly recommend a visit to this gallery either by yourself or with your students, as there is much to be learned from the objects of the past and from the artists of the future.