Korea has one of the longest and richest ceramic art traditions in the world.
It is a ceramic characterized by a dual nature: the continuous tension between serenity (represented by the object’s shape, often very simple) and dynamism (elaborate surface decoration), contrasting and coexisting factors.
Over the centuries of its tradition, the Korean Ceramic School has undergone several evolutionary phases, each of which is noted by specific historical, artistic, and cultural features that, however, did not overlook the tenacity of Korean ceramic masters in preserving tradition. Today, the Korean Craft and Design Foundation is the organization promoted by the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism of the Republic of Korea, which works to promote the knowledge of Korean ceramic art through worldwide exhibitions.
The most recent exhibition was held in Milan in April 2017 at the Triennale Design Week.
There were 16 Korean artists included showing their most recent modern designs for home use. The works of these contemporary artists are exhibited in the most important museums in the world and are auctioned internationally commanding high prices.
Among those present in Milan were the master Kwangsu SEO specializing in large moon porcelain pots; Kwangyul YOO, a celadon master who maintains his family traditions; Sangho SHIN, considered the father of contemporary Korean ceramic known for having created some of Korea’s most important ceramic events such as Jinro Internazional Invitational; HunChung Lee, internationally known for his contemporary approach to the interpretation of the “moon vase” and also for the manufacture of ceramic furniture.
Celadon is a type of ceramics, developed in China between 618 and 907 AD, under the Tang dynasty. It spread to neighboring countries including Korea, which soon coined its own version with carving decorations and copper red detailing (known as Celadon Goryeo), which soon became one of the most valued ceramics in the world.
For 417 years, Korean ceramic production funded by various governments continued to evolve (Goryeo Celadon to Buncheong to Joseon white porcelain). In 1884, after Japanese colonization and in1910 with the signing of the Eulsa Treaty and the loss of sovereignty of King Joseon the Korean factories were privatized.
At that time Korean ceramic masters either returned to their villages and opened their own kilns or worked for Japanese manufacturers. This was a period of great change that led to the rediscovery of the Celadon Goryeo tradition because the Korean masters wanted to export to new markets and to revive an ancient artistic tradition differentiating it from mass production. Following the end of Japanese domination, Korea experienced a period of artistic and cultural peace and freedom, which led to a renewal of traditional forms following a period of experimentation and observation of contemporary art trends.
Icheon, in the South Korean province of Gyeonggi, is one of the cities where there was an important “migration” of artists who, due to the rapid urbanization of Seoul, encountered difficulties in finding raw materials such as water and wood indispensable to ceramic production.
The city, where production is made in small laboratories by one artist or at most by a group of three or four of them, is considered the heart of Korean ceramic art. Here some of the world’s greatest ceramic masters are able to work on a large variety of ceramics: traditional celadon and Buncheong, white porcelain and terracotta.