Museum Hours
Thu: 1 PM–8 PM
Fri–Mon: 10 AM–5 PM
Tue–Wed: Closed
200 Larkin Street
San Francisco, CA 94102

Mother-of-Pearl Lacquerware from Korea

Apr 29, 2016 – Oct 23, 2016
On a background of sleek lacquer, mother-of-pearl illuminates intricate flowers, swirling leaves and birds poised to fly. This ornate art has been practiced in Korea for over a thousand years, but it hasn’t been extensively studied or displayed in the United States. Now, learn about luminous Korean mother-of-pearl lacquerware with the first U.S. exhibition devoted to this time-honored tradition. 

Through 30 radiant objects, many on view for the first time, you’ll discover the painstaking techniques used to create a flawless, gleaming surface filled with almost microscopic details. You’ll also get a close-up look at abalone shell, the stunning natural phenomenon that gives these works their iridescent luster. And an in-gallery video will share the conservation procedures that preserve the art’s beauty and integrity.   

The works featured in this exhibition are mostly drawn from the museum’s collection, in addition to objects on loan from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  A related display of five contemporary artworks of various mediums can be found in the adjacent Korean art galleries. Influenced by traditional Korean mother-of-pearl lacquerware, these works demonstrate the vitality of this vibrant art form today.

At the Asian Art Museum, we’re longtime leaders in Korean art. The first Western art museum to establish a Korean department with a dedicated full-time curator, we have a distinguished history of presenting groundbreaking Korean exhibitions. With Mother-of-Pearl Lacquerware from Korea, we continue our commitment to advancing international scholarship in this important field.

Be sure to check out our exhibitions of Chinese and Japanese lacquerware, on view now.

Download a PDF of our 2008 publication The Conservation of Asian Lacquer: Case Studies at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Making Mother-of-Pearl Lacquerware

Artist Kwangwoo Bae demonstrates the process of making mother-of-pearl lacquerware.

Conservation of Mother-of-Pearl Lacquerware

Peek behind-the-scenes as conservators Mark Fenn and Colleen O’Shea perform in-depth analysis and treatment of four mother-of-pearl lacquerware. These artworks will be on view for the first time in Mother-of-Pearl Lacquerware from Korea.


Pebbles by Hwang Samyong

Artist Hwang Samyong discusses Pebbles, which will be on display during Mother-of-Pearl Lacquerware from Korea.

Main image: Box (detail), approx. 1550-1650. Korea, Joseon dynasty (1392-1910). Lacquered wood with inlaid mother-of-pearl. Asian Art Museum, Acquisition made possible by Koret Foundation Funds, 2006.6.a-.b. Photograph © Asian Art Museum.

Organizers & Sponsors

Mother-of-Pearl Lacquerware from Korea is organized by the Asian Art Museum. Presentation is made possible with the generous support of Koret Foundation and Korea Foundation.