September 10, 1979 12:00 PM

Few countries have such image problems in the U.S. as Korea. Since the war there, the country’s most prominent exports have been the Rev. Sun Myung Moon and lobbyist Tongsun Park. For a long time, when Korean Air Lines provided free tickets on U.S. TV game shows, the trip was usually to some other country. This exhibit of 345 works—which is at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum and goes on to six other cities—may improve the country’s reputation considerably. Arranged by Asian Art Museum director Yvon d’Argencé, the show includes the usual Oriental motifs—dragons, Buddhas and floral filigree—but they are handled in distinctive Korean fashion, with an earthiness and humor often missing in similar Chinese and Japanese works. One 12th-century incense burner, for instance, is held aloft by smiling rabbits. The most dramatic section is a collection of gold items from the fifth and sixth centuries; there is a jade-studded crown that literally shimmers (non-gold, non-jade replicas are for sale at $395). But art purists may be more impressed by the renowned pearl-green celadon ceramics, from sensually shaped bottles to anything-but-simple roof tiles, which demonstrate why the Koreans are considered the best potters in the Far East. If nothing else, since the works were created all over Korea (the North-South division came in 1945) the show proves the Koreans have not spent all the past five millennia squabbling. After leaving San Francisco September 30, the exhibit opens in Seattle November 1. It will appear later in Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, New York and Kansas City.

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