December 6, 2012

At the Met: Korean Ceramics

Bird-Shaped Vessel, Proto-Three Kingdoms period 3rd century; earthenware. 

I love looking at ceramics at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. To me, the relative fragility of the medium makes them particularly precious, and their colors, shapes, and patterns combine with relatively simple forms to make objects that are compelling to the eye and hand. Oh, no, I cannot touch any, but they are so sensuous as to make my eye alive enough to feel that my hands are stroking, and encompassing, the form. I have written blog posts on Chinese porcelain, Chinese Tang dynasty ceramics, on American Art Pottery, and on Islamic ceramics at the Met. Within the wing of the museum dedicated to Asian art is a gallery of Korean art, in which the exhibits change fairly often, so it's always worth looking in. On my most recent visit, there were many beautiful pieces of ceramic art on view, starting with this charming bird vessel, with swooping lines of body, head, and crest, an alert little creature.

Gourd-Shaped Bottle, early 12th century; stoneware.

The subtle swelling curves, from small to large, seem perfect to me; the earthy color another homage to nature.

Cup and Stand, first half of 12th century; stoneware with incised design under celadon glaze.

I like the way the rounded forms of the cup sit comfortably on its stand, whose sides are straight.

Maebyeong, late 12-early 13th century; stoneware with iron-brown and white-slip decoration of chrysanthemums under celadon glaze. 

A Maebyeong is a plum bottle, some of which were used as flower vases, but this one was held wine. The small opening flares to a wide top and gracefully tapers at bottom. The decoration is fresh and lively.

Flask-Shaped Bottle, late 15th century; Buncheong ware with incised and sgraffito design of peonies.

This gorgeous bottle captures the exuberance and abandon of peonies, my favorite flower. 

Wine Cup with Ear Handles, 15th century; porcelain.

The objects in porcelain have a refined elegance, a sense of just the right form, just the right shape; a sense that they would be perfect in the hand, and on the table. 

Square Bottle, first half of 19th century; porcelain.

I love this square bottle because it is such an unusual form; its straight sides have a slight flare at bottom and are topped by an angle leading to the flat surface, then the small surprising curve of the opening.

Small Jar with Cover and Jar, 19th century; porcelain.

With these two jars we can compare how an edge can curve, higher or lower, with larger or smaller lips and feet. Although the forms are likely very standardized, they nevertheless seem sensitive to delicate shifts in outline.

Lee In-chin, Long-Necked Bottle, 2008; white bodied stoneware with celadon glaze. 

Finally, a lovely bottle by a contemporary Korean artist who pays tribute to the traditions of his craft. To create something new, yet be a bridge to the old, is a satisfying pursuit, especially with such a rich history; it is certainly something that interests me, in my various endeavors.

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