The first American museum exhibition dedicated to the innovative work of Korean contemporary ceramic artist Yoon Kwang-cho (b. 1946) will be on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from September 2 through December 31, 2003. Mountain Dreams: Contemporary Ceramics by Yoon Kwang-cho will include some 30 objects drawn from various museums and private collections around the world. The exhibition will coincide with the 27th Annual Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show and the 50th symposium of the American Ceramics Circle. The artist himself will be in Philadelphia in early October to give demonstrations and lectures as part of the Museum’s annual Korean Heritage Weekend (Oct. 3-5, 2003).
Acknowledged as one of the master potters of his generation in his native Korea, Yoon bases his work on the traditional Korean pottery known as punch’ong (or buncheong), which is characterized by its freedom of design, unusual shapes and coarse potting. Yoon has adapted this traditional form to create his own distinctive wares of triangular and rectangular shapes, with bold swathes of white brushwork or characters incised on their surfaces.
"It is a great joy to present the first American museum exhibition devoted to this influential artist, so highly acclaimed in Korea," said Felice Fischer, the Luther W. Brady Curator of Japanese Art and Curator of East Asian Art. "Yoon has taken the best features of Korean traditional arts and made them his own. His exuberance and devotion to his craft have breathed fresh life into the contemporary ceramic arts of Korea. Who knows how his first trip to the U.S. will influence his bold practice of experimentation?"
The exhibition gathers a representative selection of Yoon’s ceramic creations, from his first experiment with punch’ong in 1975 – still very much in the traditional vein – to his abstract, painterly pieces of the 1980s and large-scale vessels of recent years. Yoon’s work will be installed in the North Auditorium Gallery together with a number of examples of Korean furniture from the Museum’s permanent collection. Many of the objects will be placed on the furniture, suggesting how they might be displayed at home and their broader relation to traditional decorative arts.
The exhibition will also include a sampling of Yoon’s utilitarian wares for food and drink, and sketchbooks containing his preparatory drawings. One of Yoon’s vessels will also be displayed in Gallery 237 alongside traditional punch’ong pieces and major works of Korean painting, sculpture, ceramics, metalwork, lacquer, and furniture from the Museum’s growing collection of Korean art.
Yoon Kwang-cho found his vocation almost by accident. It was his brother who first suggested he try pottery. He enrolled in the prestigious Ceramics Department at Hong-Ik University in Seoul, graduating with a BFA in 1973. That same year he received the Grand Prix at the 7th annual Craft Exhibition sponsored by the Dong-a Daily Newspaper in Seoul. Yoon’s talent won him a government scholarship in 1974 to study at a kiln in Karatsu, Japan, where the first Korean potters in Japan had worked 400 years earlier.
When he returned to Korea the following year, Yoon was determined to explore further the ceramic traditions of his ancestors. The wares called punch’ong, which were unique to Korea and crafted for about 200 years from the 14th-16th centuries, appealed to Yoon in particular, and he set about studying and recreating these wares. In sharp contrast to porcelains and celadons, traditional punch’ong does not hide the natural color and texture of its original clay. Its decorative elements gradually changed and varied in each region, reflecting the artistic sentiments and special attributes of its place of production. Thus, a broad variety of punch’ong ware exists, ranging from the elegantly refined to the coarse and rustic.
In his contemporary translations of punch’ong wares Yoon adapts these characteristics to create his own distinctive style. His work features triangular and irregular rectangular shapes, with bold swathes of white slip brushed over reddish clay. The surfaces are given texture by gouges with a knife or nails, or irregular paddling with a wooden paddle or his hands while the clay is still wet.
Some of Yoon’s large-scale pieces are over two feet high, with Buddhist texts from the "Heart Sutra" incised over the whole surface. The act of copying a sacred text onto a ceramic vessel is a spiritual event for the artist, who practices meditation as part of his discipline in creating his ceramics. Some of his line drawings are reminiscent of Zen painting or calligraphy in their free and spontaneous spirit.
Yoon’s ceramics are in the collections of the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul, Korea; the Ho-Am Art Museum in Seoul, Korea; the British Museum in London; and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
Mountain Dreams: Contemporary Ceramics by Yoon Kwang-cho is supported by The Blakemore Foundation, the Korean Heritage Group of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Korea Foundation, The Hollis-Baldeck Fund, and generous individuals; the publication accompanying the exhibition is supported by the Marian Locks Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Korea Foundation. After its debut in Philadelphia, the exhibition will travel to the Birmingham Museum of Art (spring 2004).