New Met Exhibition Transports You to the Korean Peninsula’s Diamond Mountains

The North Korea resort destination has been inaccessible to tourists for nearly a decade

Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The world's attention might be fixed on Pyeongchang, South Korea, for the 2018 Olympic Games, but visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, have the rare opportunity to take in the sight of Mount Kumgang, which is restricted to tourists, but located less than 100 miles from the Olympic Stadium.

As the AFP reports, a new exhibition, “Diamond Mountains: Travel and Nostalgia in Korean Art,” includes nearly 30 paintings depicting Mount Kumgang, also known as the Diamond Mountains, considered among the most beautiful areas in the region.

The scenic spot, situated in North Korea, but located only about 30 miles from the South Korean city of Sokcho in Gangwon-do, has been restricted to tourists since 2008. Before that, during an almost ten year stretch, nearly 2 million South Koreans visited the site. But trips to the famous mountain were suspended when a North Korean soldier killed a South Korean woman who had wandered off the resort campus.

The show, part of the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Met's Arts of Korea Gallery, depicts the mountain’s rocky terrain, including its trails, peaks and views. According to the Met, the area’s landscape inspired rich traditions, and artists, poets, religious pilgrims among others found respite in the landscape.

The artifacts on view date back to the 18th century, and include silk, scrolls and painted screens. Most of the work has never before been displayed in the U.S., according to the New York Times' Jason Farago.

Writing for Apollo Magazine, Met curator Soyoung Lee, who organized the exhibition, explains that the show began to come together with the purchase of a landscape painting — a panorama of the mountains by 19th-century painter Sin Hakgwon — at auction just one year ago.

"A panorama both grand and intimate, it depicts the luminous, sometimes fantastical topography of the western region of the mountains. The combination of gently-rolling earthy hills and glimmering, jagged peaks is a signature feature, captured beautifully in this painting," he writes.

Also among the highlights of the show is a collection of silk paintings by Jeong Seon, an 18th-century artist who, according to the Met, revolutionized Korean painting. The Times' Farago writes that Seon's ouerve is full of real landscapes, rather than the idealized vistas that were common at the time. Stripped of ornate or extravagent flourishes, his works capture Mount Kumgang in all its glory.

The exhibit, now on display, runs through May 20.

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.