This summer’s exhibition at the KCC marks 130 of relations between the UK and the Korean peninsula. And it is because of those relations, and also because of the good relations built up between the KCC and the British Museum over the years, that the exhibition happened at all.
The centrepiece of the exhibition is also the centrepiece of the collection of the Korean gallery at the BM: the Joseon dynasty moon jar acquired by Bernard Leach in a Seoul antique shop in 1935. The vase is always in demand by overseas museums, and it normally takes around 18 months to 2 years to arrange a loan of the precious object. But this particular loan took little over six months to fix. And, just as with a new shopping centre, once an anchor tenant is signed up other retailers feel confident to follow, so with this exhibition. Once the famous moon jar was secured, a loan of Yee Sookyung’s Translated Vase – The Moon from the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art – seemed to just happen, and the white and gold globe magically appeared in a 600kg crate at the KCC.
Yee Sookyung’s massive, glittering tribute to Joseon dynasty potters, and to the moon itself, is created from many fragments of broken pots glued together with epoxy resin, the fissures and wounds made more evident by being glazed with 24 carat gold leaf. It is a perfect complement to the wonderfully misshapen, pockmarked original in its juxtaposed siting outside the KCC’s multipurposes space.
Elsewhere in the exhibition, UK based studio potters pay tribute to the moon jar. Gareth Mason plays with the Moon Jar’s imperfections, producing tributes which emphasise the earthy elements which give birth to the clay.
Jack Doherty strays further from the moon jar shape and colour, but some of his work hints at the celadon colours of the earlier Koryo ceramics, blended with darker oranges and reds.
Akiko Hirai stays closer to the moon jar shape, experimenting with different textures and glazes. Particularly successful is her Summer Evening Moon, in which a thin finishing layer of white engobe slip covers a layer of red slip beneath – giving a complexity of different whites.
Finally, Adam Buick’s tribute contains a beautiful set of miniature moon vases as well as a time lapse video taken over the course of ten days (25,000 jpgs in all). An unfired moon jar is placed on a Pembrokeshire cliff and filmed against the changing climate of the dramatic coastline, until finally the weather gets the better of it and the vase collapses into unformed fragments of clay.
All the pieces in the exhibition are desirable in their own right, and in their sensitive display unite to form an exhibition which is more than the sum of its parts.
Moon Jar – Contemporary Translations in Britain continues at the KCC until 17 August 2013