A round-up of the Korean crafts at Collect 2020

Collect this year moved from the Saatchi Gallery to Somerset House. The move had both advantages and disadvantages. At Saatchi there is greater openness of space and there is the added benefit of the lively environs of Sloane Square for coffee and snacks. Somerset House, on the other hand feels like a bit of a rabbit warren as you walk through the exhibition, and on the Sunday when we visited the only refreshment option nearby was a Pret. Still, the wonderful courtyard of Somerset House, and the river views on the south side of the building, has its attractions; and the number of windows with generous sills opening on to the courtyard provided opportunities for strategic placements of prized objects.

Among the Korea specialists exhibiting this year, one newcomer was Gallery Sklo, whose major forte was glass. We’ve seen the gorgeous flower-like bowls Kim Joon-yong in previous years (in 2014 and 15 they were brought to us by the Korea Craft and Design Foundation) but all the other Sklo artists are, as far as I am aware, new to a London audience, and all of them were hugely desirable. There were the delicate vessels by Choi Eunsuh that looked as if they were made from spun sugar; the figurative sculptures of Park Sung-won that reminded me of the street scenes of Kwon Dae-hun. There were also the slightly sinister objects created by Kim Nam-doo depicting a human foetus encased in a lego brick or a banana; and the collection was completed by ceramic artist Shin Sang-ho with a set of fired paintings and bovine heads entitled Dream of Africa. We look forward to seeing more from this gallery in future years.

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Also new to Collect this year was Lloyd Choi Gallery, though Choi has worked with the Korea Craft and Design Foundation in previous years. The focus of her display was Do-jo, or ceramic sculpture. The most senior artist on display was Ree Soo-jong (b 1948), whose early work in the 70s and 80s consisted of abstract sculptural forms, but who for the more recent decades has been focusing on the vessel, including the moon jar. And in making his moon jars – apart from the calligraphic use of iron oxide colour – Ree’s trademark is to leave exposed the join between the two hemispheres of which the whole is made, thus making a feature of something that traditionally is disguised as much as possible.

The work of Park Sung-wook (b 1972), will be familiar to those who have visited the KCDF stall in the past. This year, I spent more time with his work and came to appreciate it more. Apart from the more conventional vases, such as the impressive buncheong moon vase and the pair of cobalt-decorated stoneware bottles (the latter, seen in the corner of the installation shot below), his wall panels really attracted the eye, both from afar and especially up close. The panels are made of small pieces of stoneware, dipped in slip and then left to dry on paper. Wrinkles on the moist paper leave lines in the slip, giving the dried finished piece a decoration like tree bark. The two big horizontal wall panels (entitled Pyeon White Forest) capitalise on this decorative feature: the long thin pieces of stoneware are packed together like closely-planted trees in a forest. Meanwhile the other wall panels depicting the moon – either floating mid-air or shrouded in cloud – have the feel of one of Park Soo-keun’s homely paintings.

Completing the highlights of Lloyd Choi Gallery were the wall panels of Kwak Hye-young: panels that are literally painted by the rain, as she leaves her porcelain squares, with a preliminary treatment of cobalt, out in the open to be finished by the unpredictable weather.

The ceramic artists of Icheon City (one of Korea’s major pottery centres) have been coming to Collect for the past couple of years. This year was the first time that they were showing through London-based Han Collection. As expected, there was the normal high standard of work, with Ji Soon-tak’s tea bowls particularly catching the eye. In fact Ji (who passed away in 1994) seems to have a growing following – his work could also be found in Joanna Bird’s stall.

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Other Korean galleries exhibiting were Gallery LVS & Craft, and Gallery WANNMUL. The latter was fortunate to have its set of silk embroidery collected by the V&A. And Korean artists established in the UK and US were exhibited by Vessel Gallery (Choi Keeryong) and Cube Gallery (An Myung-nam and Kim Jin-eui)

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