The art/pop/fashion worlds got very excited last year when curators at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (V&A) announced an exhibition dedicated to South Korean popular culture. “Hallyu! The Korean Wave” (24 September-25 June 2023) is the first exhibition of its kind to showcase the colourful and dynamic popular culture of South Korea,” said a V&A press statement. The exhibition organisers have revealed more, shedding light on how and why “South Korea rapidly evolved from a country ravaged by war in the late 1950s to a leading cultural powerhouse by the early 2000s”. Crucially, hallyu will be used as a gateway “to explore traditional and contemporary Korean culture by connecting historic objects with popular culture and socio-political events”.
Everyone seemed to be jigging along to Gangnam Style in 2012; singer PSY’s pink suit jacket will greet visitors, a reminder of this all-conquering (and infuriating) dance hit. Highlights in the “Setting the Scene” section, focused on K-drama and film, include the pink guard costumes and a 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. The section “Global Groove” explores the explosion of K-Pop bands through social media, presenting essential ephemera including early album covers from key K-Pop pioneers such as Seo Taiji and Boys and BoA (art world darlings BTS, who have worked with Serpentine Galleries in London, will also feature). The show also weaves in key works by artists such as Nam June Paik, Ham Kyungah and Gwon Osang. Exhibition supporters include South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism and Netmarble Healer.B, a subsidiary of the game company Netmarble.