V&A to stage UK’s first major exhibition of Korean culture | V&A

An immersive re-creation of the Oscar-winning film Parasite’s bathroom set, as well as costumes and props from the hit Netflix series Squid Game are to go on display as part of the first major exhibition on Korean culture in the UK.

Hallyu! The Korean Wave will open at London’s V&A in September to celebrate the colourful and dynamic popular culture of South Korea, from its early origins to its place on the global stage today.

The phenomenon known as “hallyu” – meaning Korean Wave – rose to prominence in the late 1990s and continues through cinema, drama, music and fandoms. Rosalie Kim, the curator of the new exhibition, said Korea had today become a “leading cultural powerhouse”.

Other items to go on display include outfits worn by different generations of K-pop idols, from Psy to aespa and ATEEZ. There will also be monumental artworks, including by Nam June Paik, Ham Kyungah and Gwon Osang; about 20 high fashion looks by Tchai Kim, Miss Sohee and Minju Kim among others

Early examples of advertising and branding will also feature, including an original poster from the Seoul Olympics and the first Korean branded cosmetic from the 1910s.

The Peony dress by Miss Sohee, 2020 graduation collection: The Girl in Full Bloom.
The Peony dress by Miss Sohee, 2020 graduation collection: The Girl in Full Bloom. Photograph: Daniel Sachon

“South Korea has captivated the world over with hallyu, its vibrant and creative popular culture, which has transformed the country’s image from one devastated by the Korean war to that of a leading cultural powerhouse in the era of social media and digital culture today,” Kim said.

“This phenomenon has been amplified by tech-savvy and socially conscious global fanbases, further raising the profile and relevance of hallyu around the world, and we’re delighted to be bringing its energy and dynamism to the V&A this autumn in the first exhibition of its kind.”

The exhibition will feature about 200 objects across four thematic sections, including some loans never seen in the UK before. It opens with PSY’s viral 2012 hit single Gangham Style, with the singer’s iconic pink suit jacket on display. The song and its dance moves became an overnight sensation when it was released in 2012, and it became the first music video to reach 1bn views on YouTube.

Section one, “from rubble to smartphones”, highlights how South Korea evolved from a country ravaged by war in the late 1950s to one of immense cultural influence. The 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics is credited with changing the country’s image overseas for the first time.

Section two, “setting the scene”, spotlights the success of K-drama and film, and includes the iconic pink guard costumes and green tracksuits from Squid Game, which reached No 1 on Netflix in 94 territories and became the most-watched series globally in the streamer’s history. In the 28 days from when it premiered, the show pulled in a remarkable 1.65bn hours of viewing.

A scene from Squid Game, which reached number 1 on Netflix in 94 territories.
A scene from Squid Game, which reached number 1 on Netflix in 94 territories. Photograph: Noh Juhan | Netflix

Meanwhile, the bathroom set from Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, which won four Academy Awards in 2019 for best picture, best director, best original screenplay and best international feature film, will be recreated under the guidance of the film’s production designer Lee Ha-jun. It will be the first time the bathroom in the Kim family’s banjiha – or semi-basement apartment – will be recreated.

There will also be hats seen in the zombie series Kingdom and the grooming kit from the Handmaiden. The “global groove” section delves into the explosion of K-pop music around the world and the role social media and fandoms play in increasing their reach, and the “inside out” section focuses on K-beauty and fashion.

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