Museum enriched by the culture and legacy of Tibetan art

By Korea Herald

A world of Buddhist tradition and modernity at the Hwajeong Museum

  • Published : Feb 19, 2013 - 20:09
  • Updated : Feb 19, 2013 - 20:09
The following is part of a series exploring unique museums, collections and the passionate collectors behind them. ― Ed.

Buddhism as a religious practice has been deeply rooted in the lives of Tibetans. And although Bn is the ancient religion of Tibet, over the years it has slowly diminished and replaced largely by Tibetan Buddhism. The heavy influence of Buddhism in the country has spilled over into the world of art and can be clearly seen in various pieces of traditional Tibetan art.

Hahn Kwang-ho, a dedicated collector of various Asian artifacts for more than 40 years, first opened the Hwajeong Museum in Seoul in 1999. The three-story museum houses a large collection of art from all over the Orient, including Hahn’s personal collection of Tibetan art pieces including Thangkas and varying statues of Buddhist deities. 
Bronze statue on display at the Hwajeong Museum in Pyeongchang-dong, Seoul (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)

The permanent exhibition room of the Hwajeong Museum is dedicated to its most prized collection of Thangkas, a Nepalese form of art using embroidered silk paintings that were later exported to Tibet. Traditional Thangkas typically come in the form of large wall tapestry paintings with religious depictions of a deity such as Buddha or circular diagrams that lend spiritual and ritualistic symbolism to Buddhism.

The Thangkas on display, some dating back to the ninth century, are rich in color and detail and filled with numerous Buddhist gods and figures. These forms of art were oftentimes used as an educational tool to teach and learn the ways of Buddhism.

Also on display at the museum are a number of bronze and silver Buddhism deity statues, including patronages to the deity Vajrayna. Vajrayna is considered to be the fastest way for practitioners to attain Buddhahood ― the state of perfect enlightenment.

Hahn’s invaluable collection of Tibetan pieces is not only considered one of the most extensive in Korea, but has also been recognized by the international art community. In 2003, his pieces were put on display at British Museum in a special temporary exhibition titled “Tibetan Legacy: Paintings from the Hahn Kwang-ho Collection.” 
Interior of the Hwajeong Museum in Pyeongchang-dong, Seoul. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
A collection of “Bar-do-thos-grol,” Tibetian ancient scripts, at the Hwajeong Museum

Aside from the Hwajeong Museum’s extensive collection of around 2,500 pieces of Tibetan Buddhist paintings, sculptures and other religious artifacts, the museum also offers visitors the opportunity to witness a variety of ancient, pastime and contemporary artifacts and paintings from all over the orient, including many local pieces.

A tribute exhibition to the late Kim Gi-chang (1913-2001) is also showcased at the museum. Kim was a well-respected painter in the Korean art community. In the early years of his work, the Korean artist was famous for his surrealistic and folklore paintings of traditional Korean landscapes. Then in the ’70s and ’80s he decided to leave colors behind and focus on traditional black ink paintings and ancient calligraphy.


Currently on display in the museum’s temporary special exhibition is “Encounter,” a collection of contemporary abstract artwork by Korean artist Yoo Ju-hee. “Encounter” comprises a selection of abstract pieces made from clay and watercolors on both plywood and canvases. Many of Yoo’s abstract pieces on display are large, collage-like canvases with a dark, industrial feel to them.

“I would like to say that painting is like a writing a novel for me,” wrote artist Yoo in an essay of her work. “Although there are various types of writing, such as essays and poetry, my process of painting is more similar to that of journals.

“Instead of emphasizing or intentionally ignoring certain philosophical ideas or notions on art that have been debated throughout the course of history, I follow where my brush leads me,” she said. “Thus, the process of painting takes place involuntarily while the paint on the brush meets and mingles with the pure surface of the canvas.”

The “Encounter” exhibition will be showcased through Feb. 28.

The Hwajeong Museum has amassed a collection of around 3,000 paintings, calligraphy and ceramics of Korean art; and around 4,000 pieces of various Chinese paintings, calligraphy and other forms of art along with housing a small collection of artworks from Japan, India, Vietnam and other Asian countries.

■ Hwajeong Museum

(02) 2075-0121

● Location: 273-1 Pyeongchang-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul

● Hours: Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

● Admission: 3,000 won

For more information, visit

By Julie Jackson (