Flowering Plums and Curio Cabinets: The Culture of Objects in Late Chosŏn Korean Art by Sunglim Kim - review by James Delbourgo

James Delbourgo

The Art of Pyŏk

Flowering Plums and Curio Cabinets: The Culture of Objects in Late Chosŏn Korean Art

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Do you suffer from pyŏk? If so, do you hide your pyŏk or do you flaunt your pyŏk?

The term, connoting a certain obsessive attachment to things, lit up 18th-century Korea. According to Sunglim Kim in Flowering Plums and Curio Cabinets, it may be translated as ‘addiction, compulsion, passion, mania, fondness for, weakness for, love of, fanatical devotion, craving, idiosyncrasy, fetishism, and even hobby’. Today it suggests a ‘bad, ingrained habit of taking excessive pleasure from something’, extreme thrift or creeping thievishness.

But, as Kim explains, in the waning years of Korea’s Chosŏn dynasty (1392–1910) pyŏk became a badge of honour among the chungin, an energetic caste of professionals and brokers to yangban aristocrats seeking recognition as artists, collectors and patrons in an age of burgeoning consumerism. Originally a

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