March 24–July 28, 2024

Hallyu! The Korean Wave

From tradition to trendsetting

Today, South Korea is a cultural superpower—a global trendsetter producing award-winning films like Parasite, riveting dramas like Squid Game, and chart-topping music by K-pop groups such as BTS and BLACKPINK. But behind the country’s meteoric rise to the world stage—a phenomenon known as the Korean Wave, or hallyu—is the story of remarkable resilience and innovation.

Just a century ago, Korea was in search of a new national identity, following its occupation by Japan and the Korean War. Harnessing cutting-edge technology, the country has rapidly transformed its economy and international reputation. At the same time, its creative outputs are deeply rooted in its past, with many contemporary artists, filmmakers, musicians, and fashion designers paying tribute to traditional values and art forms dating back to Korea’s dynastic kingdom days.

“Hallyu! The Korean Wave” features approximately 250 objects—costumes, props, photographs, videos, pop culture ephemera, and contemporary works. Among the highlights are outfits worn by different generations of K-pop idols, dresses by couture designer Park Sohee and Next in Fashion winner Minju Kim, a large-scale needlework designed by South Korean artist Kyungah Ham and made by anonymous embroiderers from North Korea, and pieces exploring the Korean American experience by Timothy Hyunsoo Lee and Julia Kwon. Additionally, the exhibition showcases objects from the MFA’s own renowned collection of Korean art, including the iconic moon jar and hanbok.

Join us on an immersive and multisensory journey through a fascinating history, and celebrate a vibrant creative force that bridges cultural, societal, and linguistic divides and continues to reach new heights today.

  • Ann and Graham Gund Gallery (Gallery LG31)

“...a poetic connection between past and present...the best undergraduate elective history course ever”
The Boston Globe

“Thrilling”
Boston magazine

What Is Hallyu?

See It with a Ticket

New this spring, when you purchase “Hallyu!” tickets you are no longer required to choose an entry time. Booking your preferred date in advance means your exhibition ticket is good all day.

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History

From the Joseon dynasty to today

South Korea has experienced a dramatic rise, from a country ravaged by war in the late 1950s to a leading cultural powerhouse by the early 2000s. Its remarkable trajectory from “rags to riches” is marked by governmental control, daring strategies, and IT innovations paired with a ppalli-ppalli (“quick-quick”) ethos, where speed is of the essence.

Korean Moon Jars: More than Meets the Eye

Take two minutes to look closely at a Korean moon jar from the Joseon dynasty with Christina Yu Yu, Matsutaro Shoriki Chair, Art of Asia, and MFA curator of “Hallyu! The Korean Wave.” Exemplifying the Confucian principle of understated beauty, moon jars are prized for their subtle complexities—imperfections in the glaze that add nuance to their seeming simplicity.

Innovation

From rubble to smartphones

In the 1990s the South Korean government developed high-speed internet infrastructure information and communication technology, driven by the belief that the slow embrace of industrialization in the late 19th century caused the country’s colonization. South Korea was subsequently heralded as a model for high-speed internet and digital technology, leading to the birth of a tech-savvy nation.

Art Meets Innovation

A very special visitor stops by the MFA: Spot, the four-legged robot from Boston Dynamics! Watch Spot and its new pal Riley, the MFA’s canine volunteer, as they explore “Hallyu! The Korean Wave” and enjoy a dance party with local K-pop dance crew OFFBRND BOSTON.

Fashion and Beauty

From hanbok to haute couture

Hallyu has positioned Korea as a global trendsetter in the fields of beauty and fashion. Today K-beauty combines centuries-old formulas with new ingredients and advanced technology to create innovative cosmetic ranges tailored to modern living. K-fashion is also gaining prominence with a renewed interpretation of hanbok, the traditional Korean garment, and a versatile, fast-moving, and mix-and-matching approach to fashion.

Connecting to Tradition: Crafting Hanbok in America

Jessica Kim says that being in the business of crafting hanbok, the traditional Korean dress, connects her to her roots and culture. She and her mother, Jeoung, run the Philadelphia-based shop bdk | mint, a third-generation family business that began in Daegu, South Korea. Hear from Jessica in this two-minute video about modern interpretations of traditional hanbok, the value of exposing global audiences to hanbok in museums, and how hanbok are worn today.

Music

From Psy to BTS

K-pop music has transported hallyu to all corners of the globe. Its success as an export product stems from a combination of addictive tunes, catchy lyrics, perfectly synched choreography, edgy fashion, and high-production value music videos, all centered around the star power of its idols. Bridging cultural and linguistic divides and riding on the crest of emerging social media platforms, by the mid-2000s K-pop was rocking the world.

Twenty-One K-Pop Songs You Need to Know

finger heart graphic with black background

Berklee professor Ray Seol selects and breaks down some of the tracks most essential to the history and development of K-pop.

Listen and Read

Cinema and Drama

Spotlighting K-drama and cinema

With the budding democracy of the late 1980s in South Korea, broadcasting and film industries started to flourish. K-dramas have radically transformed the image of Korea from a little-known country in East Asia to that of a leading global trendsetter. The renaissance of the Korean film industry in the late 1990s saw the emergence of a new generation of movie makers who have become leading figures in world cinema today. The film Minari is an ode to the gyopo (Korean diaspora) community.

Don’t Miss These Hallyu Movies and TV Shows

Still from Poetry (2010)

Go beyond blockbuster favorites like Oldboy and Parasite with this curated hallyu watch list by Boston College professor Christina Klein.

Read the Article

Koreans in America

Tales from the Diaspora

While the Oscar-winning film Minari paints a relatable picture of the Korean immigrant story, there are so many other stories of Koreans immigrating to the US that didn’t make it to the silver screen. From 1970 to 1990, over 500,000 Koreans moved to the US, and today nearly two million people identify as Korean American.

Exploring Korean Cuisine in Boston

A chef holds up a box full of various foods—lettuce, kimchi, egg, noodles, and seaweed

To celebrate “Hallyu!,” food writer Jacqueline Cain spoke to Korean Americans in the local food scene about connecting with their cultural cuisine in Boston.

Read the Article

Related Exhibition

Composite of two photographs decpiting students making art and working with a teacher.

Work by Boston-based artist Timothy Lee is featured in both “Hallyu!” and “Community Arts Initiative: Our Family Portrait,” a collaboration between Lee and more than 150 local students, which also includes work from the MFA’s collection of contemporary Korean art.

Learn More About the Exhibition

Hallyu! Gift Box

A variety of brightly colored products such as tote bags and posters

Give tickets for “Hallyu! The Korean Wave” to your favorite K-pop fan—they’ll love you for it! Available at the Museum or online, two-ticket or four-ticket packages also include a limited-edition tote, a sticker sheet, and two posters.

Get Your Gift Box

Exhibition Organizer

Victoria and Albert Museum logo

Created by the V&A—touring the world.

Sponsors

Hyundai logo
The Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation logo

Generously supported by Jean K. and Jeffrey D. Lee, the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation, and the National Museum of Korea.

Additional generous support from Laura and Tait Nielsen. Supported by Sonchu and Stefan Gavell, and the Museum Council Special Exhibition Fund.

CJ ENM

With gratitude to CJ ENM, the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in Boston, and Acentech.

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