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Hallyu! The Korean Wave Makes a Pop Culture Splash at Asian Art Museum This Fall

San Francisco, March 5 — Splash-landing on September 27, 2024, Hallyu! The Korean Wave celebrates the irresistible charm of an unprecedented global pop culture phenomenon, surfing its evolution across cinema, drama, music, fashion, beauty, and the passionate embrace of fandoms — on and offline, from Gen Z to go-go Boomers.

Originating in the late 1990s via exported dramatic TV series, Hallyu (a Chinese term rendered in Korean meaning literally “Korean Wave”) surged across Asia, creating ripples that eventually reached every corner of the world. At the Asian Art Museum, Hallyu! brings together close to 200 objects and artworks animating and illustrating Hallyu’s many dimensions, complemented by dynamic digital displays and interactive experiences.  

“With this exhibition, we aim to immerse audiences in the diversity of Korean pop culture and demonstrate how Hallyu is a distinctly contemporary phenomena, mediated via digital technologies and social platforms, and connecting with timely concerns we all face: from what to watch on a Saturday night to our desire for transcendent moments of communal joy,” says Yoon-Jee Choi, Assistant Curator of Korean Art. “By bringing movie sets and interactive experiences into the museum, we invite audiences to jump into the shoes of K-drama and K-pop stars — and their extremely creative fans. Audiences will come away with a renewed appreciation for the artistry underlying their favorite exports, as well as an understanding of the specific cultural circumstances that have catalyzed this social movement over the last 30 years.” 

At the crest of the wave is K-pop, which has captivated audiences globally with its infectious beats and dynamic performances. With annual revenues exceeding $10 billion, streaming numbers reaching over 41 billion on Spotify alone, and sold-out concerts attracting millions of fans worldwide, K-pop has firmly established itself as a dominant genre in the music industry. In 2023, K-pop concerts in the United States alone sold over 2.5 million tickets.  

Whether it’s K-pop groups selling out American arenas and doing crossover duets with global stars, the hype of K-drama and Academy Award-winning blockbusters, or the untold number of social media accounts worshipping K-beauty regimens, it’s nearly impossible to find a dimension of culture today that hasn’t been touched by South Korea’s master hit-makers. From 2019 onwards, viewership for TV series produced in South Korea went up a staggering 200% in the U.S. When Squid Game hit Netflix in September 2021, one in four Americans watched it; it wasn’t just a K-drama hit — it became the streamer’s most-watched series of all time. Alongside entertainment, the rising interest in wellness means the global market for K-beauty products — renowned for their emphasis on high-quality ingredients — is valued at more than USD 91.99 billion since 2022 and expected to grow another 10% by 2030.  

“As the first non-Western cultural ‘wave’ in modern times, Hallyu offers a chance to understand how Asia is impacting so many aspects of our lives today — rewriting codes of artistry, economics, and even diplomacy,” says Jay Xu, the Barbara Bass Baker Director and CEO. “With contemporary Korean culture as the lens, this exhibition poses critical questions: how do we find connection and community with the wider world around us? How do music, art, adornment, and creativity fuse into a real social movement? In times of discord, these are issues with real significance to all of us.” 

In addition to immediately recognizable costumes, faces, and works of art, Hallyu! The Korean Wave tells a story of national resiliency with deep roots. From sophisticated electronics production and cutting-edge fashion inspired by historic moon jars to hanbok traditional dress updated in modern prints and tech fabrics, the exhibition showcases the innovative spirit that has made South Korea the cultural force that it is today. 

Hallyu! The Korean Wave arrives at the Asian Art Museum for its third incarnation, after debuting in 2022 at the V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum) in London, one of the world’s most visited museums, and then traveling to the MFA Boston.  

Hallyu! Programs Brim with Stars, Movies, Cuisine, Self-Care and More Starting THIS SUMMER 

Partnering with creative voices from the Bay Area and beyond, the Asian Art Museum will be presenting public programs to celebrate Hallyu! The Korean Wave and connect audiences with the various ways Korean culture has impacted everyday life around the world. Starting this summer, events held in advance of the exhibition’s opening date include:  

  • K-stars and artists in conversation
  • Panels on the impact of the Korean Wave on some of today’s most beloved animated features,  
  • Pop-ups highlighting the rise of Korean cuisine in the Bay Area, from the home kitchen to Michelin-starred restaurants.  

The first program will take place May 4, 2024 and features a coffee chat with actor Sang Heon Lee (이상헌) from Netflix’s XO Kitty and artist Etsu Egami (江上越). A portrait of Lee and a portrait of Lee Byung Hun (이병헌), both painted by Egami, will hang in the museum’s Korean gallery concurrent to Hallyu! The Korean Wave

Programming will continue throughout the duration of the exhibition. 

About the Asian Art Museum 

Located in the heart of San Francisco, the museum is home to one of the world’s finest collections of Asian art, with more than 20,000 awe-inspiring artworks ranging from ancient jades and ceramics to contemporary video installations. Dynamic special exhibitions, cultural celebrations and public programs for all ages provide rich art experiences that unlock the past and spark questions about the future. 


Created by the V&A — touring the world