The Wonder Unbound

March 11, 2023  21:38  |  News

The Korean Cultural Center New York (KCCNY), a branch of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST) of the Republic of Korea is pleased to present The Wonder Unbound, an exhibition examining modern Korea through the images and texts from multidisciplinary books published in foreign countries in the late 1700s to 1960s as a part of Asia Week New York, on view from March 15th to April 27th, 2023. The opening reception will be held on March 15th from 6 pm to 8 pm ET.

The Wonder Unbound

Photo – courtesy of Korean Cultural Center New York ©

For the past 20 years, Professor Seung-cheol Lee, Director of the Dongduk Women’s University and renowned Hanji (Korean traditional paper) artist himself, has amassed over 1,350 rare and vintage books from over two centuries. What had begun as means of research for the purpose of learning in depth about paper for his artworks, grew to become an extensive and relevant set of its own. The Wonder Unbound unveils a curated selection of 120 books from this collection, opening these treasures to public view for the first time.

The books are in large part written by non-Korean foreigners who had visited or worked in Korea between the years 1700 and 1960, ranging from missionaries, diplomats, soldiers, to historians, art historians, and explorers. These valuable texts bring to light varying perspectives and observations on Korean culture, economy, daily life, and notably, bring an added point of interest to the historical discourse as they are published in the author’s original language after they had returned from their travels.

The 120 books have been selected for their multi-dimensional reflection of life in Korea during the time of publication via aesthetics from its cover images, illustrations, maps, and photographs. It is also significant to note that the changing forms of visual materials are meaningful to observe from a historical viewpoint: from illustrations, to black and white photography, and ultimately to colour photography.

“This exhibition is an exciting view into Korean life and history as depicted through the visual platform in the format of books and the art they contain.” says Hee-Sung Cho, curator of the Korean Cultural Center New York, in describing the direction and goals for the exhibition. “A lot has changed in the world since these books have been published, but they are invaluable in their artistic insights.”