Silla: Korea’s Golden Kingdom
November 4, 2013–February 23, 2014

Silla: Korea's Golden Kingdom

Works on View Include Many National Treasures

Location: Special Exhibition Gallery, first floor

The Metropolitan Museum of Art will present Silla: Korea’s Golden Kingdom, an exhibition dedicated to the magnificent art created between ca. 400-800, the seminal era of this intriguing kingdom, beginning November 4. This is the first exhibition in the West to focus exclusively on the art of Silla, tracing its rise from a small polity to a powerful and cosmopolitan kingdom both on the peninsula and within the broader framework of Eurasia, to which Silla was connected via trade, and at times political and diplomatic exchanges. Drawn from the holdings of the National Museums of Korea in Seoul and Gyeongju, the more than 130 objects in this exhibition—encompassing spectacular gold regalia and precious goods and exquisite Buddhist art—introduce American audiences to this fascinating and complex culture. Many of these works are designated National Treasures or Treasures and preserved only in Korea with few, if any, parallel examples in Western museums.

The exhibition and related education programs are made possible by Samsung. 

Additional support is provided by the Korea Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. 

The exhibition was organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Museum of Korea, and Gyeongju National Museum, Korea.

Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, stated: “This show is not to be missed. It is a rare opportunity to experience the visual splendor of the Silla kingdom in the first exhibition in the West devoted to the subject. These stunning works of art are rich in beauty and history, extending back to the first millennium and to a kingdom largely unknown to our audiences. Their story will be a revelation to the public. We are deeply grateful to the South Korean government and our co-organizers for lending us the objects in the exhibition, including the exceptional gilt-bronze seated bodhisattva and the many other National Treasures on view.”

Silla rose to prominence in the early fifth century under the rule of a hereditary monarchy known today largely through material preserved in elaborate burial sites in the capital in the present day city of Gyeongju, which was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000. The first of the three sections in the exhibition features works from significant fifth- and sixth-century tombs of royalty and the elites, including the largest, the Great Tomb of Hwangnam, a double burial of a king and his queen measuring over 260 feet in diameter and almost 400 feet in length. This tomb yielded impressive gold regalia including a belt and a sumptuous crown, one of only five excavated from Silla burials; as well as extraordinary jewelry as well as distinctive pottery, precious metal vessels, and other works. These objects blend imagery derived from local traditions with that from the horse-riding cultures of the Eurasian steppes.  

The second section highlights the international nature of Silla culture through objects that were made elsewhere and preserved in these Korean burials. The finds include a unique silver bowl with repoussé decoration of possibly Central Asian or Chinese origin, an inlaid-gold sheath from the Black Sea area or Central Asia, and glass vessels produced throughout the greater Roman Empire. Economic and cultural exchanges with Eurasia continued after Silla unified much of the Korean peninsula in the 7th century, when political ties and trade with Tang-dynasty China (618–907) placed Silla firmly within the vast network of cultural exchanges between east and west that characterized trade on the famed Silk Road. These interchanges are evident in ceramics, statues, and architectural elements featuring imagery from China, Persia, and elsewhere. 

The art of Buddhism in the Silla Kingdom is the focus of the third and final section of the exhibition. Adopted as the state religion around 528, Buddhism completely transformed Silla society and culture, spurring both changes in burial customs and the creation of new artistic traditions. Perhaps the most vivid visual clue to this shifting cultural landscape lies in the use or re-use of gold. Once the material of choice for imperial and personal adornments—as demonstrated in the show’s first section—this precious metal would later be used primarily to create Buddhist art. Exquisite sculptures and reliquaries fashioned from bronze and gold—including the famous late 6th-early 7th-century Pensive Bodhisattva (National Treasure 83)—exemplify the height of artistic achievements stimulated by the new religion. Infused with a distinctively native aesthetic, Korean Buddhist art reinterprets styles found in China and South Asian centers, reflecting the pan-Asian nature of this religious tradition.

Digital Programs
The exhibition galleries include a range of digital presentations to enhance the visitors’ experience and appreciation of the art, including videos featuring 3D reconstructions of the Great Tomb of Hwangnam and the Seogkuram Grotto, a UNESCO World Heritage Monument.  In addition, an interactive display allows viewers to examine closely a spectacular pair of earrings while explaining some of the techniques used in the production of the earrings and other gold adornments in the exhibition. The technology is courtesy of Samsung.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Museum has published a fully illustrated catalogue with eight essays written by a team of Korean and Western scholars, providing an important English-language publication on Silla art and culture.

The catalogue is made possible by the Korea Foundation, The Kun-Hee Lee Fund for Korean Art, and Grace I. Kim and Family.

Exhibition Credits
The exhibition is organized by Soyoung Lee, Associate Curator, and Denise Leidy, Curator, both of the Department of Asian Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in collaboration with colleagues at The National Museum of Korea, Seoul, and Gyeongju National Museum, Korea. The exhibition designer is Michael Lapthorn; graphics were designed by Kamomi Solidum with Norie Morimoto and Sue Koch; and lighting design is by Richard Lichte and Clint Coller, all of the Metropolitan Museum’s Design Department.

Education Programs 
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Museum will offer a variety of programs. Highlights include: a November 17 Sunday at the Met program of lectures complemented by a live demonstration of goldworking techniques; a December 4 Gallery Conversation between a curator and an archaeologist about the nomadic cultures of Eurasia and regalia found in tombs of the Silla Kingdom; A Day of Activities for Families on January 26 exploring ancient wonders from Korea through tours and art-making activities; Lunar New Year Festival on February 8; and a ticketed event called Spark: From Silla to K-Pop on February 12 in the Metropolitan Museum’s Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium ($30).  In addition, six gallery talks will focus on the exhibition and on the themes of tomb culture and sacred monuments, and the spread of Buddhism throughout Asia.

Audio Guide
An audio tour narrated by the exhibition’s curators—part of the Museum’s Audio Guide program—provides additional contextual information about Silla and its artistic heritage. It is available for rental ($7, $6 for Members, $5 for children under 12). 

The Audio Guide is sponsored by Bloomberg.

The Museum’s website includes a special feature about the exhibition at www.metmuseum.org/silla.

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October 25, 2013

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