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Posts Tagged ‘Korea’

If there is anything other than cell phone, video games (and players) and LPGA players that Korea should be proud of, it should be pottery. Often under-appreciated in the shadow of Chinese, the tradition of Korean pottery boasts both its long history and quality. Koreans started making stoneware around BC 1st century and developed it into celadon in 10-14th century and white porcelain after 15th century, both of which were highly sought after by then the Asian ruler China.

However, this tradition and the quality of works is largely lost due to the political turbulence during the 19-20th century, first Japanese occupation and then the Korean War. Artists in the modern Korea had to face the burden of reviving the tradition and creating something new, something modern. This struggle, I believe, is still going on.

Luckily I have found one exceptional lady who is making her stand in this struggle. Hwang Jong Nae (1927- ), one of the first modern Korean ceramic artists, was born to an artistic family; her father, Hwang Jong Koo, also a well-known potter, devoted his career to reviving the tradition of Korean celadon. She studied painting at a college and pottery at a graduate school. In the 50’s Korea, it is rare for a young lady to go to college not alone graduate school. It already tells how much she was devoted to this path and also her environment supported her passion. After the war, she started teaching and grew the next generation.

Her early works show a great sense of color; probably reflects her educational background in painting. She soon turned her interest to Punchong, transitional style between celadon and porcelain mainly created in 14-15th century. Her works not only rediscover the old style and method but also recreates it in a modern term.

During the conversation she said that Punchong was the most Korean pottery among many styles due to its history and nature. Punchong was known to be created often by ordinary craftsmen, as opposed to highly skilled ones for the noble clients during the 10-13th century, and features the unrestrained manner in its form and decoration.  One of her Punchong works is housed in the British Museum as a fine example of modern Korean pottery.

Many of contemporary Korean potters make interesting or rather trendy shape, which at times reflect the stereotype notion of “Asian,” mainly evolving around the minimal and nature-inspired zen style. However, I still believe what makes art great is not the trendy surface but the thoughts and the craftsmanship that could materialize the thoughts. Is it too old school of me?

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2012 is also a year of big change in Korea; we have the presidential election, too. The TV campaign of candidates has started; every corner of the video is already analyzed and criticized. One of interesting points other than promised policies is the lounge chair that one of the candidate is sitting on in the campaign. 

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It is the lounge chair designed by the husband and wife duo Charles and Ray Eames for their friend Billy Wilder, the director of “Some Like it Hot” and “Sunset Boulevard,” and manufactured by Herman Miller since 1956. It is still in production and without a doubt one of design icons that are highly sought after all around the world. In Europe, works of American designers are not really highly regarded, however the ones by the Eames are exception. The Eames pieces might feel like a “proven” work (hence worth investing). 

The chair uses rosewood and leather for the seat. It comes in different colors besides black, but black seems the most poplar and classic. It is in fact quite comfortable. And to add to its luxurious feel the ottoman provides a comfortable support for your tired feet. Well, now it sounds as if someone like presidential candidates who would struggle everyday to make the nation better deserves such sitting.

For my taste – in fact a lot of people (especially vintage dealers) agree with this – the old ones are better than newly made chairs. Considering Herman Miller’s statement that they have kept the craftsmanship since its first creation, the quality should be the same if not better. However, the ones from the 60’s have beautifully aged wood and most of all beautiful leather. Why?! Maybe because people could kill animals more freely back then??

The critics of this campaign, or rather the candidate himself, questions how and why a presidential candidate, who of course emphasizes on his care for middle class, can indulge in such an expensive chair. As for the price, Herman Miller posted $3824.15 (it’s on sale now. Originally it was $4499) for the set, and I believe it should be the price of its official retailers. If the shipping, custom fees, all other expenses and the markup for the local retailer are considered, the price here in Korea could be between 5,000,000-7,000,000 KRW ($5,000-7,000 roughly). Then, how about the old ones? It varies depending on the condition or the location of seller (the ones in New York would price it more highly ) but generally costs around $3800-5000. Because of the value for the age and the widely shared understanding that the old ones are better, vintage can be more expensive than the newly made.

I didn’t mean to express my political opinion through this writing. I don’t want any criticism or explanation (well… the campaign of this candidate did release their explanation saying that he acquired this chair, the used one, at a very low price). However, I am really curious what his PR people were thinking when they placed this chair in the TV commercial. Didn’t they think that people will nag on this chair? Or was it their intention to plant this chair so that it could create a sensation and hence people will watch the campaign one more time? If they did, they did succeed. Bravo!   

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Well, for me this is my part of the world, in a way.
This is a concert held in 1984. The original song was written and sung in the 50’s. The first 30 seconds of the video shows the parade scene of Korea, probably between 1945-55, right after Korean War.
People were suffering from the war but as the song sounds -energetic and positive- there was a certain amount of hope, at least the government tried to promote that. Maybe this mentality still appeals to the people.

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Horim impressed me with its new exhibition rooms (although they were cold and dark)

It’s worth visiting when you are coming to Seoul!     

 

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It was the 30th anniversary of the Horim Art Center in Seoul.
I remember I went to that museum 11-12 years ago; only thing I could remember is the freezing room in the museum. They opened a new building in a busier part of Seoul, nonetheless it is still cold.

Today we are so used to simple, stream-line, minimalist designs that even the 1,500 year old “crude” stone wares look fairly satisfying.
Of course one thing to keep in mind is that most of those objects were not used everyday, if used at all. Products made with this much endeavor were mostly used for rituals and often buried with the corps. That is why lots of those ritual vessels have forms like birds or boats — things that “carry” things (and ghosts!)

Considering what people may have thought of when making these vessels, they look so much more humane than just cold stone…

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