The dish on ceramic arts

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The dish on ceramic arts

Not every plate is, well, just a plate.
Ungno Lee’s plates were among the first ceramic works in Europe to embrace the concept of abstract expressionism of the 1960s.
Impressed with the Korean master’s design work in his studio, Serge Gauthier, the director of the National Ceramic Factory in Sevres, France, asked Lee to draw sketches for ceramics. Together they began a series of technical experiments, eventually overcoming the limitations of the medium to attain artistic expression. Their capturing the essence of craft and art, and fusing the aesthetics of the East and the West, expanded the boundaries of art.
It was the Korean-born Lee, then in his 50s, who dedicated himself to help make the breakthrough, or perhaps more importantly, modernize the age-old, conservative European craft by collaborating with the contemporary artists of the ’60s.
The exhibition, “Ungno Lee’s Design Work 1, The Porcelains of Sevres” at Ungno Lee Museum in northern Seoul documents the artist’s long collaboration with the National Ceramic Museum in Sevres in France.
Also known as Go-am, his pen name, Lee (1904-1989) is considered one of the important Korean artists to leave Korea. Born in 1904 to a conservative Confucian family in Chungcheong province, Lee pursued art at early age. After winning a number of awards in Korea and Japan, he moved to Germany and later settled in Paris in the late 1950s.
Working with Jacques Lassaigne and Paul Facchetti, who were influential art critics of the time, he was one of leading artists in the French “Informel” movement in the ’60s and was the first Asian to establish an academy to teach oriental art and calligraphy in Europe.
The Ungno Lee Museum’s exhibit includes 78 drawings produced in 1970s in Paris and 27 ceramic pieces by European masters selected from the National Ceramic Museum in Severes. Lee’s signature works are divided into three themes: family, birds and pictograms.
Jeong Seung-hee, one of the curators of the museum, calls ceramic works “design-oriented applied art intended for porcelains.” This exhibition traces the development of the art from the mid 1960s to early 1980s.
The curators at Ungno Lee Museum have included works by such ground-breaking artists as Alexander Calder, Pierre Alechinsk, Edik Steinberg and George Mathieu.
A plate by Calder, known for his mobiles, has two red and blue circles that look as though they are about to melt.
The porcelain plate by Yaacov Gam, whose diverse works are compared with Durer, Goya, Mondrian and the like, is decorated with colorful stripes, reminiscent of pop art.
Four of Sevres’s porcelains by Mathilde Bretillo, Borek Sipek, Steinberg and Lee are on sale at the Ungno Lee Museum.
This is the museum’s sixth exhibition since its opening in November, 2000.
To reflect the artist’s philosophy ―“My tendency in art works is internationalize Korean art employing new expressions” ― the museum has focused on Lee’s life and art in an effort to contribute to the study of modern Korean art.
The museum also functions as an institution to research Lee’s art by organizing seminars, curator education programs, publishing books, holding exhibitions and promoting a Go-am scholarship.

by Ines Cho

The exhibition runs until March 20. Ungno Lee Museum is located at 512-2 Pyeongchang-dong in northern Seoul.
To get to the museum, get off at the Gyeongbok Palace subway station, exit No. 3, and transfer to bus No. 135, 135-1 or 135-2 and get off at the last stop. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Mondays. Admission for adults is 3,000 won, children 2,000 won.
For more information, call (02) 3217-5672 or visit the Web site at
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