Showing the beauty of craftsmanship : Local galleries highlight the unique creations made by artisans

July 26,2017
The “Afterimage of Beginning” by Choi Byung-hoon is on display at the Gana Art Center in central Seoul. Choi’s art furniture explores new limits and the future of furniture with its experimental forms. [GANA ART CENTER]
Finding beauty in the things we use in our everyday lives brings art closer to us, and recently galleries are offering the chance for people to enjoy works that blur the boundary between art and craft. From furniture to pottery, toys and other works made by master craftsmen, this summer is hot with exhibitions that show the work of artisans who have infused art with practical functions.

This summer, several galleries and museums are highlighting diverse works by master craftsmen who infuse beauty into their work.

Furniture as art

Some say that a house is not a home without furniture, but a house filled with works of art can be turned into an art gallery, like the Gana Art Center in Pyeongchang-dong, central Seoul. A special exhibition titled “Matter and Mass - Art Furniture” will run through Aug. 15 and features the works of Choi Byung-hoon and 13 other artists who have explored the functions and aesthetics of furniture.

A pioneer of the art furniture field and also a leading furniture designer in Korea, Choi has been nurturing young talent as a professor of woodworking and furniture at Hongik University for 31 years. The 13 other participating artists are all his pupils, who have taken part in this exhibition under his supervision. The artists push the limits of what furniture is, and venture into a new realm of art.

The works are not quite self-explanatory unless the viewers take into consideration that they are in fact furniture of some sort. Choi’s stone bench, titled “Afterimage of Beginning” for instance, would just look like a sleek and shiny rock if it was put by a riverside; but indoors, its smooth curves carved on the rough surface provide a resting place not only for people to rest their bodies, but also their minds.

Due to their experimental designs, and in part with intention, some works riddle viewers as to what their functional use might be. Hong Min-jung’s “Goteborg Container” is a stack of suitcases, Suh Myoung-won’s “Paperniture” looks like a gigantic toilet roll and Kim Gunsoo’s “Another Stone and Stone” are literally shiny stones. By playing with the visitors’ assumptions of what furniture should look like, the artists extend the definition of furniture into a subject of both art and comfort to be enjoyed at home.

Admission is free. To go to Gana Art Center, get off at Gyeongbokgung station, line No. 3, exit 3, then take bus No. 1711 or 1020, and get off at the Lotte Apartment stop. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, visit www.ganaart.com or call (02) 720-1020.

The potter’s perspective

At the Lotte Gallery Jamsil Avenuel, in southern Seoul, visitors can enjoy a peek into the diverse works of artist Lee Hun-chung. The exhibition, “The Journey 2017” is open until Aug. 6.

“It’s a journey into my past, and also into the multiple realms of art,” said Lee at a press meeting on July 14.

“I hope that my furniture will be understood on a vague ground. I hope that it earns its function through the user and transcends the limited space, penetrating the thick walls by touching [the viewers’] hearts,” said Lee. The works on display are hard to pin down, as they transcend conventional boundaries of various disciplines. While his chairs serve as an object to sit on, their forms and colors also provide an aesthetic experience even without being touched.

Just as his works are the results of a collaboration of his design and the unexpected changes made by the fire of the kiln, the ceramics take different roles according to how the viewer interacts with the pieces. If you sit on “Wall-Chair,” then it can been seen as a colorful bench, but if you look at it from afar, it’s an abstract art piece that defies definition.

Widely known as a potter, Lee participated in a group exhibition, the “Poetry in Clay: Korean Buncheong Ceramics,” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York in 2011 where he was able to display his modern reinterpretations of traditional ceramics. Lee has been acclaimed for his works that feature a mixture of ceramics and concrete. His works are owned by famous collectors such as actor Brad Pitt, rapper Puff Daddy, architect Norman Foster and artist James Turrell.

The exhibition will be held at the Lotte Gallery Jamsil Avenuel, Jamsil station, line No. 2, until Aug. 6, and then at the Lotte Gallery Gwangbok branch in Busan from Aug. 10 to Sept. 17. The gallery opens with the department store at 10:30 a.m. and closes at 8 p.m. For more information, call (02) 3213-2606.

History through play

Belgium is the birthplace of famous animated characters like Tintin and the Smurfs, and Belgians’ love for children’s play culture is evident through their toys, dolls and games. The Brussels toy museum, “Le Musee du Jouet,” is home to a collection of 30,000 toys, including trains, wooden dolls, teddy bears, robots and paper models that children in the past actually used to play with.

Currently in Korea, two galleries are offering a taste of the Belgian museum. At the Korea Foundation (KF) Gallery in Jongno, central Seoul, and at the Lotte Gallery Cheongnyangni branch in central Seoul, visitors can catch a glimpse of European history through the toys that children used to play with. Although dolls and toys may seem unimportant, they reflect an era and a philosophy of art, as well as give a look into the technology of the time period.

KF Gallery, located near Euljiro 1-ga station, line No. 2, exit 3, is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day until Aug. 5. The Lotte Gallery Cheongnyangni branch is right near Cheongnyangni station, line No. 1, and is open 10:30 a.m. until 8 p.m. Both admissions are free.

Collective craftsmanship

At the Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art (GMMA) in Ansan, you can see the delicate works of 32 local craftspeople from five different fields of craft, at the “Craft Climax - Gyeonggi Contemporary Craft 2017.” From July 21 to Sept. 17, the museum will display some 240 pieces of modern craft and some 160 related exhibits created by artists who reside in the Gyeonggi region.

The cross-genre exhibition aims “to encourage closely related fields of art to cross and mix with each other, in order to expand the territories of modern art,” according to the museum. Artisans using wood, textiles, metal, ceramics and glass have come together in this exhibition.

Since there are so many artists, the works take on various themes and voices. While some works are made out of basic materials such as wood and leather and focus more on the natural beauty of craft, others choose to show how nature has been combined with modern technology to create an intricate harmony of natural substances such as glass and metal, and the human manipulation of those ingredients.

Nevertheless, each artist tells the story of how humans and their actions change their relationships to the crafts they come in contact with. A glass bottle, for example, could be a flower vase, a water bottle or a perfume container according to the needs of the user.

GMMA also provides visitors with education programs on how to handle the craft materials and a guided tour of the museum by the artists themselves.

To go to Gyeonggi Museum of Modern Art, get off at Choji station, line No. 1, and walk for 15 minutes, or take buses No. 66, 99-2, 23, 11 and 52, then get off at the Hwarang Amusement Park stop. Tickets cost 4,000 won ($3.58) for adults and 2,000 won for children. Open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. in July and August, and to 6 p.m. in September and October. The museum closes every Monday. Visit www.gmoma.ggcf.kr or call (031) 481-7000.

BY YOON SO-YEON [yoon.soyeon@joongang.co.kr]

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