On September 24, the V&A Museum in London will be opening its doors to Hallyu! The Korean Wave, a landmark exhibition celebrating the colorful and dynamic popular culture of South Korea. The exhibition will run from September 24, 2022, until June 25, 2023, and will follow the culture from its origins to where it is today.
The exhibition will feature around 200 objects spread across four sections and will include some items never seen in the U.K. before. Highlights will include an immersive re-creation of Parasite’s bathroom set and an array of iconic costumes and props seen in K-drama, including items from the hit Netflix series Squid Game. There will be outfits worn by different generations of K-pop idols, from artists who were at the forefront of the Hallyu wave such as PSY, to more recent influences such as aespa and ATEEZ. Alongside the outfits will be art including works by Nam June Paik, Ham Kyungah, and Gwon Osang. There will also be around 20 high fashion looks by Tchai Kim, Miss Sohee, and Minju Kim among others, as well as early examples of advertising and branding, including an original poster from the Seoul Olympics, and the first Korean branded cosmetic from the 1910s.
The exhibition will open with PSY’s viral 2012 hit single “Gangnam Style” with his iconic pink suit jacket on display, honoring its record of becoming the first music video to reach one billion views on YouTube. The hugely successful video was an early reflection of Hallyu’s international appeal that went on to launch a global phenomenon, inspiring parodies and cover versions across the world, several examples of which, filmed across multiple continents, will also feature in the introduction.
From Rubble To Smartphones
The first section is titled From Rubble To Smartphones and will provide historical context to the rise of Hallyu, highlighting how South Korea rapidly evolved from a country ravaged by war in the late 1950s to a leading cultural powerhouse by the early 2000s. Korea’s 20th-century history is marked by the Japanese colonial occupation, the territorial division that led to the Korean War, and the subsequent 27 years of military rule. In the 1960s and 70s, South Korea experienced rapid industrialization and economic growth, and the country was propelled into the international stage in 1988 with the Seoul Summer Olympics, changing Korea’s image overseas for the first time. Despite the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, bold strategies and IT innovations turned South Korea into one of the most digitally connected countries in the world by the late 90s. Korea’s modern history will be represented and explored in the exhibition through photography, posters, and archive materials, alongside objects ranging from Olympics posters to early examples of electronics. These objects include the world’s first commercial MP3 player and a monumental 1986 video sculpture by artist Nam June Paik, featuring 33 TV monitors.
Setting the Scene
Section two Setting the Scene will focus on the remarkable success of K-drama and film, charting, in turn, their rise in popularity from the late 1990s to the present day. Highlights in this section will include the iconic pink guard costumes and green tracksuit from the hit Netflix series Squid Game, and a recreation of the bathroom set from Bong Joon-Ho‘s Oscar-winning film Parasite. Traditional Korean costumes and props will also be on display, including hats seen in the Joseon-era zombie series Kingdom, and the grooming kit from The Handmaiden. Finally, this section will showcase webtoons, a Korean innovation of digital cartoons designed for mobile devices, as a source of inspiration for many K-dramas. It will explore recurring themes in TV series, mixing genres and local narratives, such as the country’s relationship with North Korea as depicted on screen.
Global Groove will delve into the explosion of K-Pop music around the world, underlining the crucial roles social media and fandoms play in increasing their reach. Visitors will enter the gallery through a corridor lined by fan lightsticks, then will be greeted by posters, ephemera, and album covers from early K-Pop bands like Seo Taiji and Boys and BoA, before progressing through to explore the concept of ‘Idols’ in K-pop. Highlights will include a monumental three-meter-high sculpture of G-Dragon by Gwon Osang, whilst costumes on display will include aespa’s original iridescent outfits from the music video “Next Level”, and British punk fashion-inspired ensembles worn by four members of ATEEZ in the music video “Fireworks.” For this section, the V&A has also worked with celebrated K-pop Style and Visual Director Geeeun, who has styled idols like BLACKPINK and BIGBANG, and Style Director Balko, who has worked with BTS and NCT, to design two new ‘Idol’ looks each. The section will also explore the hugely important role that K-Pop fandoms play in popularizing and spreading K-Pop around the world. Suspended from the ceiling will be a selection of K-Pop banners acquired for the museum as part of a public call-out for submissions.
The final section Inside Out will present K-beauty and fashion. It will highlight how product placement in K-dramas and endorsements from K-Pop idols have amplified the international profile of K-beauty and fashion. Featuring cosmetics packaging from the 13th century to the present day, the exhibition will trace packaging’s design evolution, from ornate porcelain pots to items including face mask wrappings boasting idols as superheroes. Hallyu! will conclude with K-fashion, showcasing over 20 looks by contemporary hanbok and fashion designers from Korea and the Korean diaspora. On display will be a look specially created for the V&A by acclaimed stylist Suh Younghee, alongside a Kpop hanbok by C-ZANN E, a pink jacket by Danha, and a purple cheollik dress by Tchai Kim. The final display of the exhibition will be dedicated to contemporary Korean fashion designers creating colorful, showstopping garments, including a Kim Seo Ryong overcoat, as seen on Jin from BTS in their Summer Package 2019, as well as looks by Minju Kim, Münn, and Miss Sohee.
The exhibition has been curated for the V&A by Lead Curator Rosalie Kim and Project Curator Yoojin Choi. The exhibition design team consists of Na Kim as Creative Lead, with Studio MUTT as 3D designers. The V&A has been collecting Korean art and design since 1888, and now holds one of the largest collections of contemporary Korean craft and design outside Korea, including graphic design, fashion, and digital art. It was the first European institution to host the seminal exhibition the National Art Treasures of Korea in 1961 and opened London’s first permanent gallery devoted to Korean arts in 1992. This exhibition is supported by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism – Republic of Korea and Genesis.
Want more London exhibition content? Check out our coverage of Yayoi Kusama’s infinity mirror rooms at the Tate Modern here!