Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Hosts U.S. Debut of Hallyu! The Korean Wave

First major exhibition to focus on South Korean pop culture and its worldwide influence

On view at the MFA from March 24–July 28, 2024

Approximately 250 objects highlight Korea’s innovative contributions to art, cinema, drama, music, fashion, beauty and technology

Works from the MFA’s renowned collection of Korean art illuminate connections between traditional values and contemporary culture

BOSTON (February 29, 2024)—Today, South Korea is a cultural superpower—a global trendsetter producing award-winning films like Parasite, riveting dramas such as Squid Game and chart-topping music by K-pop groups including BTS and BLACKPINK. But behind the country’s meteoric rise to the world stage—a phenomenon known as the Korean Wave, or hallyu—is the century-long story of remarkable resilience and innovation. This spring, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), hosts the U.S. debut of Hallyu! The Korean Wave, which presents an immersive and multisensory journey through a fascinating history. The first major exhibition to explore the origins, evolution and incredible impact worldwide of Korea’s pop culture, Hallyu! celebrates a vibrant creative force that bridges cultural, societal and linguistic divides—and continues to reach new heights today.

“Hallyu! The Korean Wave” is created by the V&A—touring the world. Sponsored by Hyundai Motor Company. Generously supported by Jean K. and Jeffrey D. Lee, the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation, and the National Museum of Korea. Additional generous support from Laura and Tait Nielsen. Supported by Sonchu and Stefan Gavell, and the Museum Council Special Exhibition Fund. With gratitude to CJ ENM, the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Boston, and Acentech. Media Partner is Kiss 108. 

Hallyu! The Korean Wave is unlike any exhibition we’ve ever hosted at the MFA,” said Matthew Teitelbaum, Ann and Graham Gund Director. “It brings a new energy and excitement to the Museum, while at the same time honoring our longstanding commitment to collecting and displaying Korean art.”

Hallyu! features approximately 250 objects—costumes, props, photographs, videos, pop culture ephemera and historical and contemporary works. Among the highlights are outfits worn by different generations of K-pop idols, dresses by couture designer Park Sohee and Next in Fashion winner Minju Kim, a large-scale needlework designed by South Korean artist Kyungah Ham and made by anonymous embroiders from North Korea, and pieces exploring the Korean American experience by Timothy Hyunsoo Lee and Julia Kwon. The exhibition also showcases objects from the MFA’s own renowned collection of Korean art, from examples of the iconic moon jar to hanbok, the traditional Korean dress. Visitors can further explore the Museum’s collection—one of the largest and finest in the U.S.—in the Arts of Korea Gallery.

The exhibition is on view in the MFA’s Ann and Graham Gund Gallery from March 24 through July 28, 2024. Visitors are not required to choose an entry time when purchasing a Hallyu! ticket. Member preview takes place March 20–23.

An opening celebration on March 22 at MFA Late Nites—the Museum’s signature after-hours event—features special K-pop performances presented by CJ ENM. A Korean film festival, a conversation with award-winning author Min Jin Lee and other public programs take place throughout the run of the exhibition. After its U.S. debut at the MFA, Hallyu! travels to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.

“Korean pop culture has brought inspiration and joy to millions around the world, and it is incredibly exciting to bring this colorful and dynamic exhibition to Boston,” said Christina Yu Yu, Matsutaro Shoriki Chair, Art of Asia. “At the MFA, we’ve been able to draw connections between hallyu and our renowned collection of Korean art—showing several masterpieces in new light—as well as to explore hallyu’s impact on the Korean American experience.”

The exhibition is organized into thematic sections:

  • An introduction that sets the stage for the exploration of hallyu’s global appeal with a familiar example: the iconic pink suit jacket worn by Psy in his viral 2012 hit “Gangnam Style,” which became the first music video to reach one billion views on YouTube.
     
  • From Rubble to Smartphones provides historical context for hallyu, tracing how—within living memory—South Korea rapidly evolved into a cultural superpower. The country’s 20th-century history is marked by the Japanese colonial occupation (1910–1945), the territorial division of the peninsula in 1945 that led to the Korean War (1950–1953) and the subsequent 27 years of military rule. A period of rapid industrialization and economic growth, combined with a landmark democratic movement in 1987, culminated in the successful hosting of the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul. This historic event propelled South Korea onto the international stage for the first time. Here, the country’s modern history is represented through photography, posters and archival materials alongside objects that include early examples of electronics.
     
  • Sounding K-pop and Fandoms delves into the explosion of K-pop around the world and the crucial roles that social media and fandoms play in increasing the genre’s reach. Highlights include a display of lightsticks—a staple of K-pop concerts, designed to reflect the identity of different groups—and original outfits worn by aespa and ATEEZ for their music videos “Next Level” and “Fireworks.”
     
  • Spotlighting K-drama and Cinema focuses on the remarkable success of K-drama and film, charting their rise in popularity from the late 1990s to the present day through multimedia, installations, posters, props and costumes. Highlights 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 Parasite, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2020.
     
  • Making K-beauty and Fashion explores the origins and innovations of the Korean fashion and beauty industries. The design evolution of makeup packaging is illustrated through examples from the 13th century to today. Historical examples of hanbok—Korea’s national costume—are juxtaposed with high-fashion looks that are inspired by traditional patterns and silhouettes. Highlights include a sculptural peony gown by Park Sohee and a contemporary hanbok overcoat by Baek Oak Soo, worn by RM from BTS in 2018.
     
  • The exhibition concludes with an interactive dance challenge, which invites visitors to learn the synchronized, sophisticated choreography that is the hallmark of K-pop. Created in collaboration with Google Arts & Culture Lab, the challenge features choreography by B.B. Trippin set to Psy’s “That That,” co-written and co-produced with SUGA from BTS.

Unique to the MFA’s presentation, works by Boston-based artist Timothy Hyunsoo Lee and Washington, D.C.-based artist Julia Kwon as well as photographs on loan from staff member Julia Kim explore the Korean American experience. Lee’s Lotto (sweet child of mine) (2019) consists of 30 childhood photographs transferred on aluminum plates with gold leaf—his unique reflection of the immigrant experience and growing up between cultures. Kwon’s large-scale textile, created in the form of the Korean object-wrapping cloth called bojagi, draws attention to the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kim’s photographs trace her family’s history from the Korean War to their immigration to the U.S.

On display throughout the exhibition galleries, about a dozen objects from the MFA’s collection showcase the scope of the Museum’s holdings of Korean art—among the largest and finest in the U.S. While innovative and trendsetting, Korea’s creative outputs are also deeply rooted in its past, with many contemporary artists, filmmakers, musicians and fashion designers paying tribute to traditional values and art forms dating back to the Joseon dynasty (1392–1910). These ideals are embodied in exceptional objects such as a white porcelain moon jar from the early 18th century that demonstrates the beauty of imperfection and a late 19th-century screen decorated with the eight Confucian virtues.

Public Programs

The MFA’s wide range of public programs related to Hallyu! kick off on March 22 at MFA Late Nites (8 pm–1 am), featuring K-pop performances presented by CJ ENM. The after-hours celebration also features a set by DJ Peach, a karaoke lounge hosted by DJ Dayglow, and a fan meetup area hosted by @kpop_in_mass, where visitors can make friendship bracelets, trade photo cards and participate in a random play dance. A second MFA Late Nites celebration of Hallyu! takes place on May 10.

The Museum’s annual Memorial Day Open House (May 27) and Juneteenth celebration (June 19) offer opportunities for Massachusetts residents to see Hallyu! for free. University Members are invited to celebrate the exhibition at College Night (April 11), a free event featuring programming created by and for college students, including performances by students from Boston Conservatory’s commercial and contemporary dance programs and Whisper, UMass Boston’s first K-pop dance crew.

Offered in person and virtually, a six-session course (Wednesdays, March 27–May 8) offers an immersive dive into how the Korean Wave came to sweep over contemporary culture around the world. Participants can purchase a course package or individual sessions focused on Korean history, the MFA’s Korean art collection, K-pop, cinema, fashion, and dreams and aspirations in Korean art and popular culture.

Additional Hallyu! programs include:

  • Min Jin Lee: Writing and the Korean Wave (May 2): This program with the award-winning author of Pachinko and Free Food for Millionaires is presented as part of the Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Celebrity Lectures.
     
  • Hallyu Hits: Korean Films That Moved the World (May 16–June 14): This festival features Korean mega-hits like Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite and Snowpiercer, Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy and Yeon Sang-ho’s Train to Busan. Additional screenings throughout the run of the exhibition celebrate works by directors from the Korean diaspora including Amanda Kim’s Nam June Paik: Moon Is the Oldest TV, Celine Song’s Past Lives and Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari.
     
  • The City Talks: The MFA’s conversation series brings together local thought leaders to explore themes prevalent in current exhibitions. Hallyu!-themed discussions include “Uplifting Korean Voices” (March 28), moderated by cultural journalist Kayti Burt, and “Korean Standards and Stigmas (May 30)” moderated by Hyeouk “Chris” Hahm, Professor and Associate Dean for Research at Boston University.
     
  • Sound Bites: Drop-in performances include “Ajaeng in America: Korean Music and Delta Blues” (April 11) featuring Boston-based ajaeng player Yoona Kim and Arizona-based banjo player and guitarist Roman Barten-Sherman (April 11) as well as the Korean Performing Arts Institute of Chicago (May 23), presented in partnership with the Korean Cultural Society of Boston.
     
  • Global Korea Beyond the Wave (April 12): This free symposium co-hosted with the Korea Institute at Harvard University features a keynote presentation by Rosalie Kim, curator of Korean art and lead exhibition curator of Hallyu! at the V&A. Additional speakers include: Nicholas Harkness, Modern Korean Economy and Society Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Korea Institute at Harvard University; Ju Yon Kim, Patsy Takemoto Mink Professor of English at Harvard University; Soyoung Lee, Landon and Lavinia Clay Chief Curator at Harvard Art Museums; and Cecilia Heejeong Kim, Professor of Composition and New Media at Sangmyung University and Kim Koo Visiting Professor at Harvard University.

Shop

In the Gund Gallery Shop, located next to the exhibition, visitors can purchase the Hallyu! catalogue, published by the V&A, and an assortment of products. Exhibition-related merchandise includes T-shirts, baseball hats, beanies, tote bags, enamel pins, woven patches, stickers and lollipops. New items inspired by objects in the MFA’s collection of Korean art include tote bags, mugs, magnets, puzzles, journals, notecards, scarves, tea towels, placemats and coasters. Additional offerings include plush toys designed by members of BTS, clothing from Chelec Studio, a capsule jewelry collection inspired by the finger heart gesture that has been popularized by K-pop idols, a selection of Korean teas and snacks, and beauty products from The Crème Shop.

Additionally, in conjunction with Hallyu! the MFA has partnered with Boston-based company Endstate on a collection of apparel inspired by six Korean objects from the MFA’s collection—one contemporary work and five historical works from the Joseon dynasty. The NFC-chipped products, which include a pair of sneakers, two T-shirts and two sweatshirts, offer customers unique perks such as VIP and early entrance to the two Hallyu!-themed MFA Late Nites on March 22 and May 10.

About the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The MFA brings many worlds together through art. Showcasing masterpieces from ancient to modern, our renowned collection of nearly 500,000 works tells a multifaceted story of the human experience—a story that holds unique meaning for everyone. From Boston locals to international travelers, visitors from all over come to experience the MFA—where they reveal connections, explore differences and create a community where all belong.

Open six days a week, the MFA’s hours are Saturday through Monday, 10 am–5 pm; Wednesday, 10 am–5 pm; and Thursday–Friday, 10 am–10 pm. Plan your visit at mfa.org.

About Hyundai Motor Company

Established in 1967, Hyundai Motor Company is present in over 200 countries with more than 120,000 employees dedicated to tackling real-world mobility challenges around the globe. Based on the brand vision ‘Progress for Humanity,’ Hyundai Motor is accelerating its transformation into a Smart Mobility Solution Provider. The company invests in advanced technologies such as robotics and Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) to bring about revolutionary mobility solutions, while pursuing open innovation to introduce future mobility services. In pursuit of sustainable future for the world, Hyundai will continue its efforts to introduce zero emission vehicles equipped with industry-leading hydrogen fuel cell and EV technologies. More information about Hyundai Motor and its products can be found at: https://www.hyundai.com/worldwide/en/ or Newsroom: Media Hub by Hyundai

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Lisa Colli
617-369-3447
lcolli@mfa.org