Moon Jar – Contemporary Translations in Britain

News of the upcoming exhibition at the KCC, whose centrepiece is the Moon Jar that Bernard Leach bought on a visit to Korea in 1935, on loan from the British Museum for the occasion.

On a related note, if you happen to be in Seoul in the next couple of months, this exhibition exploring the work of Yanagi Muneyoshi (Yanagi Soetsu), at the Deoksu Palace branch of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, looks to be well worth a visit, and includes a piece by Bernard Leach.

MOON JAR: Contemporary Translations in Britain

18 June – 17 August 2013
Marking 130 years of Anglo-Korean relations, the exhibition celebrates these ties through the work of four leading UK potters and a Korean artist: Adam Buick, Jack Doherty, Akiko Hirai, Gareth Mason and Yee Sookyung.

In 1883 the UK was the first country in Europe to form diplomatic relations with Korea, then known as the Hermit Kingdom for its isolationist policy. One of the early visitors to Korea was the renowned Studio Potter Bernard Leach (1887-1979) who purchased a ‘Moon Jar’ on his second visit to Korea in 1935. The Moon Jar resonated so strongly with Britain’s most important twentieth-century potters that it has since become a symbol of UK-Korea relations.

The Korean Moon Jar (달항아리) has an iconic, almost mythological status. The exhibition explores a contemporary response to the Moon Jar and its symbolic position in Britain today. The artists have each been invited to present their work alongside the historic vessel, re-contextualising it through their individual ceramics practice.

Believed to be used for utilitarian purposes, storing food or displaying flowers, Moon Jars were made by unknown craftsmen during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Made of porcelain, their whiteness may have symbolised the Confucian ideals of austerity, simplicity and humility; their asymmetry may have foregrounded one’s uncontrived relationship with nature. As the scholar Yi Kyu-gyong (1788-1856) states, “The greatest merit of white porcelain lies in its absolute purity.”

Moon Jar Poster

This Moon Jar (1650-1750), now part of the British Museum’s collection, is one of only twenty remaining in the world and has a unique history. The pot was originally brought to Britain by Bernard Leach who visited Korea on two occasions, once in 1918 and again in 1935. He wrote of the “poetic beauty” to be found on the Korean Peninsula and of the “heartfelt beauty that exists in Corean pots.” Born in Hong Kong and raised in Japan, Leach described himself as a ‘courier’ between East and West and held a vision of international cultural exchange.

During the Second World War (1939-45), Leach requested that Viennese potter Lucie Rie (1902-1995) take care of the Moon Jar at her home and workshop in Albion Mews, London. It remained there for 50 years until her death, when it was bequeathed to Janet Leach (1918-1997). The British Museum acquired it in 1999 where it has been on display in the Korea Foundation Gallery since 2000 and featured in a special exhibition in 2007.

The Moon Jar resonated strongly with Leach and Rie, two of Britain’s most important twentieth-century potters; both of whom embraced the Modernist principles of simplicity, truth to materials, form following function and the idea that less is more. The now celebrated Moon Jar, although two to three hundred years old, firmly part of Korea’s cultural history, contributed to Leach and Rie’s European aesthetic and has a thriving and continuing legacy both in Korea and Britain today.

Participating artists

Adam Buick

Adam Buick, Landscape Series
Adam Buick, Landscape Series: Miniature Moon Jars, Porcelain, h. 9cm (Photo: Courtesy of the artist)

Based in Pembrokeshire, Adam Buick’s practice explores a single pure form influenced by the tradition of the Moon Jar. His work is embedded in the study of the landscape and the elemental process of change. “I incorporate stone and locally dug clay into my work to create a narrative, one that conveys a unique sense of place.”
Buick’s Earth to Earth, to be shown as part of the exhibition, is a land art film capturing a true sense of time, space and cycles within nature

Jack Doherty

Jack Doherty, Moon Keeper,
Jack Doherty, Moon Keeper, Crank Clay h.35cm (Photo: Rebecca Peters)

As a student in Belfast in the mid-1960s, Jack Doherty visited Lucie Rie’s Albion Mews studio and recollects seeing the Moon Jar in her home. “I carry the presence of that Moon Jar as a memory. I was very moved by the experience of an object which was different and strange in its imperfection; both wrong and right at the same time.” Archetypal forms from history are touchstones in Doherty’s practice questioning the vernacular of domesticity and functionality.

Akiko Hirai

Akiko Hirai, Izayoi Moon
Akiko Hirai, Izayoi Moon, Stoneware h.40cm
(Photo: Courtesy of the artist)

Born in Japan (1970) Akiko Hirai studied Ceramic Design at Central St Martins and has been based in London for 10 years. Hirai’s work reflects an intuitive and poetic response to the traditional vessel form based on a Japanese aesthetic of beauty in imperfection and irregularity, “Things that are completely perfect and things that are completely broken appear to be in two opposite conditions, yet two conditions are the same concept as a form of completion. The waxing and the waning moon contain an expectation of completion whether it is going to be the start or the end. We are seeing the moon and at the same time we are seeing our perception of time.”

Gareth Mason

Gareth Mason, Mammon Tarnished
Gareth Mason, Mammon Tarnished, 76cmx59cm
(Photo: Jason Jacques Gallery)

Gareth Mason’s practice references universal traditional forms and reinterprets the historical utilitarian purpose of the pot as an expressive canvas. “The Jar is legendary among the pantheon of ceramic vessels. From Minoan Pithoi to the mighty Tamba wares of Japan, cool Nigerian water pots to the enigmatic Moon Jar, whose form occupies a powerful place in the collective ceramic psyche. In our age, allergic to ambiguity and mystery, the jar is a bastion of aesthetic gravitas.”

Yee Sookyung

Yee Sookyung, Translated Vase- The Moon, 2012,
Yee Sookyung, Translated Vase- The Moon, 2012, 143x141x138(h)cm, Ceramic Trash, Epoxy, 24k gold leaf, resin, Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art Collection
(Photo: Courtesy of the artist)

Korean artist Yee Sookyung, utilises broken ceramic pieces into her artistic practice focusing on a sculpture series titled Translated Vases. The exhibition will present The Moon, a spherical piece, constructed from discarded ceramic fragments from contemporary Moon Jar vessels made by Master craftswoman and artist, Park Young Sook. Yee states, “I attach the broken bits and pieces of ceramic trash one by one as if I’m putting together a jigsaw puzzle and I cover the seams with 24-karat gold leaf. Originally, the ceramic masters were trying to make perfect works of art. I am literally ‘translating’ the work by collecting the pieces of broken vases and mending their ‘wounds’.”

(automatically generated) Read LKL’s review of this event here.

3 thoughts on “Moon Jar – Contemporary Translations in Britain

  1. I have just returned from a month long trip to Korea – a long intended trip inspired particularly by the moon pot in the BM. I was fortunate to purchase a fine example by a maker in Icheon and am patiently awaiting its arrival here.
    Will there be a private view for the exhibition? I’d love to come along and see that pot again. I believe the BM sent it off to Japan for some time so I haven’t had the pleasure of admiring it for some time

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