Studio MUTT were appointed by the V&A in August 2021, through an invited competition, to design Hallyu! The Korean Wave, the first major exhibition dedicated to hallyu (the Korean Wave) , a term that captures the meteoric rise in South Korea’s vibrant popular culture around the world. Curated by Rosalie Kim + Yoojin Choi, the exhibition explores the makings of the Korean Wave through cinema, drama, music and fandoms, and underlines its cultural impact on the beauty and fashion industries.
Project: Hallyu! The Korean Wave
Architect: Studio MUTT
Creative Lead + Graphics: Na Kim
Exhibition Curator: Rosalie Kim + Yoojin Choi
Lighting Designer: Studio ZNA
Project Manager + QS: Fraser Randall
AV Hardware Designer: DHD Service Ltd
V Software Designer: Luke Halls Studio
Address: North Court + Gallery 39, V&A, London, SW7 2RL
Completion: September 2022
Gross Internal area: 900 m²
Construction cost: Undisclosed
Main Contractor: madeWORKSHOP
The exhibition opened in September 2022 and features over 200 objects across four thematic sections – including some loans never seen in the UK before. Highlights include an immersive re-creation of Parasite’s bathroom set, and an array of iconic costumes and props seen in K-drama, film and music – including from hit Netflix series Squid Game. Hallyu is also used as a gateway to explore traditional and contemporary Korean culture by connecting historic objects with popular culture and socio-political events.
Studio MUTT’s spatial design breaks the existing galleries down into four main sections, which make a sequence of spaces that create a dynamic journey through the many facets of hallyu. The exhibition opens with an amuse-bouche video and sound installation of PSY’s viral 2012 hit single ‘Gangnam Style’ collaged across 18 monitors, with cover versions and the exhibition title cut into the footage.
From Rubble To Smartphones
The first section, ‘From Rubble to Smartphones’ provides historical context to the meteoric rise of hallyu, highlighting how South Korea rapidly evolved from a country ravaged by war to a leading cultural powerhouse. Moving from the energetic, spacious introduction section, visitors pass under a reflective doorway into a long intimate room, dimly lit and painted in rich purple, the space has a somber feel that reflects the content describing the history of war. A second room within the same section opens up to a monumental proportion and is centered on a colossal 1986 video sculpture by artist Nam June Paik, featuring 33 TV monitors. A grid of tubular strip lights give a more uplifting feel and evoke the technological development displayed in the room.
Setting the Scene
Through another reflective doorway, visitors arrive at ‘Setting the Scene’ – a theatrical urban landscape which creates a familiar yet peculiar representation of Korean street scenes and urban backdrops. This section focuses on the success of K drama and film including the iconic costumes from Squid Game to a recreation of the bathroom from Parasite. Visitors are made to feel like they are extras on a film set, or even part of the production team seeing behind the scenes. This feeling culminates in an Old Boy video installation where visitors become part of the fight scene that is projected at 1:1 scale inside one of the buildings. Korean signage and realistic architectural detailing of roofs and windows are juxtaposed
against a playful abstraction in scale and the absence of materiality in the painting of the colour green to give a surreal feel which complements the use of abstraction and surrealism within Korean Cinema.
The third part of the exhibition ‘Global Groove’ is charged with energy and delves into the explosion of K pop music around the world. The section is split into a number of rooms and builds from small to large for added dramatic effect. Architecturally the spaces resemble the places where music is performed and produced from recording booths to music video sets and concert stage sets. Visitors enter into a dark antichamber lined in glowing fan light sticks from a variety of bands. The next rooms are lined in large painted cardboard tubes. The repetitive curves dampen the acoustics and provide an intimate room to talk about the beginnings of K-pop and the fans themselves.
The final room, filled with booming k-pop tracks, opens up to a triple height space and gives visitors the feeling of entering into a k-pop concert. The monumental space is equaled in scale by the content such as a epic G-Dragon sculpture by Gwon Osang set in a mirrored alcove and a huge media screen covering the rear wall which combines with large hanging projection panels and black mirrored floor to create the feeling of being inside a music video, standing amongst the K pop idols both virtual and physical.
The final section, titled ‘Inside Out’, presents K-beauty and fashion, underlining their origins whilst showcasing the innovative and experimental approaches that have led to new aesthetic standards. Here colour is stripped out of the exhibition design, off white walls and a black reflective floor creates a monochromatic space that gives added focus to the colourful content. The section is broken into two rooms, one for beauty and one for fashion. The beauty room is a softly lit space that is centered on a large traditional folding screen. Contemporary graphic artworks of Korean furniture and beauty objects are applied to the surrounding walls, bringing together the contemporary and traditional objects on display and creating the illusion of being inside a traditional Korean room.
The exhibition ends in fashion with a room centered on a feature flower shaped plinth. The clinical and contemporary monochromatic space frames the many beautiful contemporary garments by designers and stylists such as Suh Younghee and Tchai Kim, Minju Kim and Miss Sohee.