Saturday, January 17, 2009

National Treasure number 83 ...

from the National Museum of Korea, otherwise known as "Pensive Bodhisattva", has been in Brussels for the past few months, in an exhibition at the Palais des Beaux Arts (a.k.a. "Bozar") that a friend of mine did the design for (which in this case meant putting nothing but explanatory text on the walls, and displaying the objects in a series of cunningly built and arranged vitrines). She sent me tickets for the opening, but something came up (I can't even remember what now), and tomorrow is the last day of the show, so it was really now or never. There are some marvelous things on display, but most stunning is undoubtedly the famous NT83. The curl of the fingers and the toes, the curve of the back and the shoulders, the folds of drapery below, the smoothness of the torso above, and the warm glow of the bronze, with the posture conveying alertness and introspection at once (and to think the whole thing is a lump of metal!) - the effect is a captivating combination of fluidity and fixedness. It really is one of the great masterpieces of world art.

The picture above was put on flickr by user pravin8; I think it can be reproduced with attribution, but if I'm wrong, let me know and I'll replace the copy with a link. There's a better photo, but from a less interesting angle, here. As so often (always?) pictures can't even begin to convey the impact of the work of art itself. The piece is best seen full-front and slightly from below (which meant sitting on the floor).

In the exhibition as a whole I was surprised at the amount of iron and granite on display - compared to (say) bronze and marble - but this reflects my ignorance of Korean arts and crafts. I was also disappointed that the sutras and suchlike were either calligraphic or block-printed. Just about the one thing I did know about Korean arts and crafts is that they invented cast-metal moveable type, so it would have been nice to see a specimen.

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