Korean moon jars experience new heyday with modern revamps
Moon jars, or the round, white porcelain jars that first appeared in Korea’s crafts history in the 18th century, has emerged in the last two decades as a kind of icon of Korean beauty, perhaps largely due to contemporary artists inspired by moon jars and the special exhibitions by curators and art historians that feature them.
Reinforcing the glory of the plump, white ceramic jar, Gallery Hyundai, one of Korea’s major commercial galleries, recently started a solo show of works by Kang Ik-joong, one of the earliest contemporary artists to have actively used the image of moon jars for in their artwork. Leeum Museum of Art, the nation’s biggest private museum, wrapped up a solo show of Park Young-sook, one of the most famous contemporary moon jar potters, on Sunday. And Christie’s recently announced it will put up an 18th-century moon jar for the auction house’s New York sale next March and provide a preview of the vessel at its Hong Kong branch from this Saturday to Monday.
“I love moon jars, because they are sunsu [a Korean adjective meaning pure or innocent] and dangdang [self-confident or naturally dignified],” Kang said during his solo show at Gallery Hyundai in 2010. Now, the 62-year-old artist is holding his first exhibition in 12 years at the gallery under the title “The Moon is Rising.”
“Connection” is the main theme of the new solo show that features about 500 pieces including paintings, installations, project sketches and drawings going back to the 1990s, Kang told the press earlier this month. The works on view include large-size paintings of moons surrounded by rainbow-colored rings and moon jars.
The artist has repeatedly said that, as the traditional process of making a moon jar requires making its upper and lower parts separately and then assembling the two parts, it reminds him of connecting cultures and, in particular, the hope of reconnecting North and South Korean people and cultures.
The solo show, which runs through Dec. 11, also presents a colorful large-scale mosaic made of small 3-by-3-inch paintings including those of moon jars, for which the Korean-born, New York-based artist is famous. Kang’s works in such a style, sometimes created in collaboration with children from various regions, decorate public spaces not only in Korea but also overseas, including in the San Francisco International Airport, New York subway stations and Princeton Public Library.
In particular, his large-scale screen that covered Gwanghwamun, the main gate of Gyeongbok Palace in central Seoul, when it was under repair from 2007 to 2010, helped promote the beauty of moon jars to the Korean public. The screen “Moon over Gwanghwamun” consisted of 2,611 wood panels, each of which was 60-by-60 centimeters (24-by-24 inches) and adorned with painted mountains or his beloved moon jars.
The “Moon Jars: Park Young-sook” exhibition at the Leeum Museum of Art in central Seoul finished on Sunday. In the exhibition, Park presented 29 modern moon jars, the diameters of which were at least 70 centimeters. They are much bigger than traditional moon jars, whose diameters are generally 40 to 45 centimeters. Some of the moon jars were painted on by Lee Ufan, master of dansaekhwa, or Korean monochrome paintings. Many dansaekhwa artists including Lee have mentioned moon jars as one of their sources of inspiration. Park’s contemporary moon jars were displayed in a new style in a white cube under a very bright white light.
An exhibition of an old Korean moon jar will also be held, though in Hong Kong. Auction house Christie’s said it will put a high-quality 18th-century moon jar up for its New York sale on March 21, and a preview of the 45.1-centimeter-high moon jar will be held from Nov. 26 to 28. Its price is estimated at least at $1 million, the auction house said.
Takaaki Murakami, head of the department of Japanese and Korean art at Christie’s, stated, “The moon jar is one of the most evocative and important forms in the long history of Korean ceramics, and we are thrilled to offer one of the finest moon jars to reach the market in years.”
BY MOON SO-YOUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]