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A Pair of Figures—Inquiry

Lee Yootae Korean

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 233

This portrayal of a researcher in her lab is a testament to the evolving role of women in the twentieth century. The rise of the “modern girl” and “new woman” in Korea mirrored a global trend. The advanced lab, complete with glass equipment, microscopes, and batteries, highlights Korea’s involvement in scientific research. While exemplifying contemporary social shifts, the researcher is not disconnected from the past—beneath her white lab coat she wears a hanbok, a traditional Korean garment. Echoing colonial Korea’s ambiguous response to modernization and female empowerment, Lee made this a diptych, displayed alongside A Pair of Figures—Composing a Verse in Response, a portrayal of a seemingly “traditional” woman in a modern domestic interior. The pairing challenges conventional notions of women and art, displaying a complex interweaving of the traditional and the contemporary within a dynamic and charged sociopolitical sphere.

A Pair of Figures—Inquiry, Lee Yootae (Korean, 1916–1999), Ink and color on paper, Korea

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