Show shatters myths about glassIt’s hard to draw the line between art and craft. But when the subject matter happens to be glass, even the most fastidious art critic in Korea has refused to call it a work of art. The consensus in Korea was that if a piece of work was made of glass ― be it beaded jewelry or a gorgeously marbled vase ― it was automatically demoted to the realm of craft.
At a solo exhibition titled “Through the Life,” at Gallery Sklo in central Seoul, the artist Park Sung-won strikes out at such notions. The 43 pieces show the artistic potential of the medium, and have been purposely arranged in order to be presented as more than just craft.
Mr. Park, 42, is one of a handful of Korean artists who are pioneering the relatively overlooked genre of glass art for the past 15 years. Mr. Park, who teaches the subject at the Korean National University of the Arts, is particularly frustrated by the way glass art is viewed in Korea.
“It’s sad that even the ‘art’ theorists consider glass works to be crafts and look down on them,” Mr. Park said.
Koreans have been working with glass since the Silla Kingdom (57 BC to 935 AD) ― ancient tombs from the kingdom contained glassware and glass beads. But glass art gradually disappeared since the beginning of the Goryeo dynasty (935 to 1392) in favor of celadon. It was revived during the late Japanese colonial period, but the outbreak of war in 1950 made it impossible to do artwork in almost any form.
It wasn’t until the late 1980s that a small group of experts brought to light Korea’s long tradition of glass art. In 2003, Gallery Sklo, Korea’s first gallery for glass work, opened its doors.
Believing it was “too early” to introduce Korean glass art to the Korean public, Kim Hyo-jung, Gallery Sklo’s director, started by showing internationally-renowned works by the Norwegian artist Ulla-Mari Brantenberg, Italy’s Pino Castaguna and Australia’s Richard Whiteley. She said that over the past few years the market has matured enough to show works by Koreans, who are now also venturing into the overseas art market. She added that at the gallery’s latest show, Koreans responded enthusiastically to the glass works by the American artist Nicole Chesney.
Mr. Park had started out in metallic crafts and only discovered glass art in early 1990s, when he saw the art on exhibit in Japan. “I was actually shocked by how glass could be sculpture, not just a plate.” After seeing the florid colors in glass works, Mr. Park entered an undergraduate program at West Surrey College of Art and Design in England at the age of 29.
He has tried to “create a space with lines” through repeated experiments with the medium.
To create the collection on show at Gallery Sklo, organized around the theme of “mirror,” Mr. Park had to cloister himself for 10 months at his studio in Songchu, Gyeonggi province. “Mirrors reflect more than my own form,” he said. “They show the state of my mind: happiness, frustration, or emotional ups and downs.”
One piece, “Escape I,” features a wall-size mirror framed with dozens of crimson red glass pipes on the three sides of the mirror, each pipe pointing at the center. The edges of the pipes look like thorns, intended to express the pain “of escaping my former self.”
There are six other mirrors of varying sizes and bright colors ― canary yellow, pea green, royal blue ― that catch the eye. Mr. Park said that the glass makes him expresses feelings through its color: the red pipes meant his passion and the yellow symbolizes his gentler side.
One collection, “Dream & Season” takes up an entire corner of the gallery. It features 19 long glass pipes that resemble the stems of lotus plants, yet serve as candlesticks. Six other candlesticks, titled “Saengseon,” the Korean word for “fish,” are topped with fish-shaped glass.
The exhibition includes a videotape of the artist making glass arts, in order for the curious visitors to the exhibition better understand the hardship of the artist of a slight frame. “It is hard to create a huge piece or give a great volume in it, because one should be able to carry the creature by himself,” he said.
Making the glass work requires a lot of sand and a lot of heat: 1,300 degrees Celsius (2,372 Fahrenheit). It also requires a lot of patience. Mr. Park must attach the melting glass to a long pipe, place it in the furnace and then blow into the tube. He then shapes the glass with his hands, covering the ball in wet newspaper. If he needs to elongate the shape, he hangs it from the ceiling. The glass must then be heated again and reshaped, over and over, for hours without break. Since the furnace has to be kept running, which is not cheap, the overall production cost of glass art is much higher than for other mediums. The result is a fluid and shapeless work of art that appears to move ― ironic given that the form is considered the most limited medium.
Gallery Sklo is scheduled to show another exhibit of glass works by a leading Korean artist, Pyun Jong-pil, next month.
by Park Sung-ha
The exhibition “Through the Life” runs until Nov. 6. Gallery Sklo is on Cheonggu 5-gil near Yaksu station, subway line No. 3, exit No. 3, in Sindang-dong, central Seoul. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m from Tuesdays to Saturdays, and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays and holidays. For more information, call (02) 2236-1583, or visit www.gallerysklo.co.kr.