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What you see is the unseen / Chandeliers for Five Cities, 2015

What you see is the unseen / Chandeliers for Five Cities (detail), 2015, by Kyungah Ham (b. 1966). Photo by Kim Hyunsoo.


The Shape of Time: Korean Art after 1989

October 21, 2023–February 11, 2024

This exhibition brings together works by contemporary artists of Korean descent in a vibrant installation that filters individual artistic practice through the collective memory of a generation that lived under South Korea’s authoritarian regime—and was the first to experience its new democratic freedoms. Born between 1960 and 1986, many of the artists trained in Europe and the United States, immersing themselves in Euro-American ideals while coming of age at a time of rapid change in Korea.

The artists bend time—addressing the past, present, and future, sometimes all in the same work—and place to make sense of their complex cultural experiences. They reflect on the rapid urbanization and industrialization that shaped South Korea, unresolved political tensions with North Korea, the use of traditional techniques in contemporary art, the pressure to conform to societal norms around gender and sexuality, and their own resistance to these experiences.

As we expect of contemporary art, nothing is off limits. Each artist works in the medium that best delivers their message, be it fiber, painting, ceramics, photography, embroidery, installation, lacquer, video, metalwork, or performance. This is the first major showing of Korean contemporary art in the US since 2009. Many of the artists are well known in South Korea or have an international following, but others have not yet been properly introduced to audiences beyond Korea, especially in American museums, until now.

Main Building

Free with museum admission

Pay What You Wish admission on 1st Sunday of the month & every Friday night


Major support for The Shape of Time: Korean Art after 1989 has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, with additional support from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, The Korea Foundation, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, The Women’s Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Jung and Nelson Chai, Sueyun and Gene Locks, Maxine de S. Lewis, an anonymous donor, Andrea Baldeck, M.D., Lois G. and Julian A. Brodsky, Cynthia L. Johnson, The Jane and Leonard Korman Family Foundation, Constance and Sankey Williams, and other generous individuals.


Elisabeth Agro, Nancy M. McNeil Curator for American Modern and Contemporary Crafts and Decorative Arts

Hyunsoo Woo, Pappas-Sarbanes Deputy Director for Collections and Exhibitions

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