Potters united by magical Moon Jars in mythological Korean Cultural Centre exhibition

By Ben Miller | 24 June 2013

Exhibition review: Moon Jar, Korean Cultural Centre, London, until August 17 2013

A photo of a huge white sculpted boulder with bits of gold circling its surface
Yee Sookyung, Translated Vase - The Moon (2012). Ceramic Trash, Epoxy, 24 gold leaf, resin, Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art Collection© Courtesy Yee Sookyung
A happy consequence of the UK becoming the first European country to nurture diplomatic relations with Korea in 1883 was that Bernard Leach became one of the first British artists to travel to the East.

On his second visit, in 1935, the potter returned with a Moon Jar – a kind of mythological urn which appealed sufficiently to British potters to ultimately become a symbol of relations between the two countries.

Its form has inspired generations of English potters and its influence can still be discerned in the work of artists at the Leach Pottery in St Ives.

More than a century on, this charming, highly skilful display unites four British potters and Korean artist Yee Sookyung, revealing the Jars as a cause of significant common ground between crafty hands on either side of the world.

Akiko Hirai seeks to channel the imperfections and irregularities of nature in his incredible vessels. He casts his New Moon in charcoal black and iron wash before scattering wood ash across its upper section. He then layers his Sleeping Moon in multiple layers of slip, mineral rocks from the Earth’s crust and wood ash. His are lunars circled with thick streaks of olive green or shrouded in dense, murky white.

Gareth Mason makes huge spheres with porcelain oxides, full of nicks, hollows, strange encrusted growths, open-headed alien lids, soot-coloured craters and tiny pebbles on vast surfaces, as if viewing the face of the moon from the galaxy.

Adam Buick, who has made a powerful time lapse film showing the sun rising and setting over some of the cliffs these minerals and earthly materials come from, also assembles a mantel of porcelains. Smoother and fist-sized, their elements are embedded into their spheres, as if sending up a more colourfully diverse version of the planets.

They contrast Jack Doherty’s ashen, fired Keeper Pots, assembled in a curve of turquoise circles resting on incrementally lengthening plinths.

Joseon Dynasty’s Large Korean Moon balances on a tiny atlas. But anyone in search of a centrepiece will be unable to look beyond Sookyung’s The Moon, Translated Vase Series, which steals the show in meteoric style via spindles of 24-carat gold laced around the multi-dimensional, white ceramic surface of a huge boulder.

This display is at once organic and exhaustively worked and reworked around kilns and fierce furnaces. Quietly uplifting, it captures a magic no less alluring nearly a century after Leach discovered it.

  • Korean Cultural Centre, Strand, London. Open 10am-6pm (11am-5pm Saturday, closed Sunday). Admission free. Follow the centre on Twitter @KCCUK.

More pictures:

A photo of a huge circular vessel in white and light green against a black background
Joseon Dynasty, Korean Moon Jar or Dal-hang-a-ri (1650-1750). Glazed White Porcelain, Hahn Kwang-Ho Purchase Fund, British Museum Collection© Trustees of the British Museum
A photo of a series of circular vases with various patterns on their sides
Adam Buick, Landscape Series: Miniature Moon Jars. Porcelain© Courtesy Adam Buick
A photo of a large sculpted vessel in black and terracotta
Jack Doherty, Moon Keeper. Crank Clay© Rebecca Peters
A photo of a large circular vessel with white and green paint on its side
Akiko Hirai, Izayoi Moon. Stoneware© Courtesy Akiko Hirai
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