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Past Exhibitions: 2005

The Enduring Art of the Korean Potter

December 18, 2004–November 6, 2005

Wine cup and stand

Korean, Goryeo Period (918-1392), 12th century
Wine cup and stand
Stoneware with celadon glaze
Gift of Inta and Bruce Hasenkamp and museum purchase made possible by Elder and Mrs. Sang-Yong Nam, 2004

No other art form captures the history and soul of Korea so well as its ceramics. Not only have clay pots survived the passage of centuries, while monuments of architecture, painting, and sculpture fell into disrepair or were lost to war, but clay pots in their form and function reveal most clearly to us changing social customs and values. It was also in ceramics that the Korean artist was at his most innovative, developing wares that were eagerly sought after in neighboring China and Japan. This exhibition, the debut of UMMA's newly acquired Hasenkamp-Nam Collection of Korean art, presents a visually stunning array of earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain spanning two millennia.

This exhibition is made possible by the E. Rhodes & Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and National City Bank. Additional support has been provided by the University of Michigan's Office of the President, International Institute, and Korean Studies Program, and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.

More Info: The Enduring Art of the Korean Potter

Sandwiched between China to its west and Japan to its east, Korea has suffered throughout its history from devastating invasions from both neighbors, and lost much of its cultural heritage in the rubble of war. It is not possible to trace the development of Korean architecture or painting, for example, from the works that survive on the Korean peninsula. The one art form that has endured—and the only art form that allows us to trace the entire sweep of human history in Korea—is pottery. Born from the Korean earth itself and the genius of generations of craftsmen, pottery is perhaps the art form most closely tied to functionality, and thus speaks eloquently about the social context within which it was made and used. The Enduring Art of the Korean Potter introduces to the public, for the first time, the Museum’s newly acquired Hasenkamp-Nam collection of Korean ceramics, which spans two millennia of pottery production.

From the early period (second through eighth century), the exhibition features a magnificent selection of thin-bodied gray stoneware pieces made for the elite and for funerary rituals. Many of the storage jars and bowls are elevated on high cutout pedestals, giving them also a sculptural quality. These funerary wares are entirely independent of Chinese influence, but the aesthetic was carried to Japan by émigrés, and vessels very similar to those in the exhibition have been excavated near Osaka, Japan.

The second phase of Korean ceramics came under the Goryeo Dynasty (918–1392), which championed Buddhism as the state religion. The Goryeo court nurtured the production of celadon-glazed stonewares for use in Buddhist rituals, and so a new repertoire of shapes developed, often in the shapes of flowers or fruits. Inspired initially by Chinese green-glazed wares, Korean potters experimented with a wide range of techniques, including carved, incised, and molded decoration; but their own contribution was inlay, where white and black slip were used to create complex abstract or pictorial designs. All of these techniques can be found in the exhibition. Korean celadons were highly prized in China and Japan at the time of their creation, and today command top prices on the international art market.

When the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1910) assumed power, Buddhism was discredited and Confucianism took its place as the official creed. The new government favored white porcelains, which were simultaneously austere (in accord with Confucian frugality) and rare (to suit royal demands for expensive wares). By the seventeenth century, porcelain production had become widespread, and the taste had shifted to blue-and-white wares, which catered to the needs of scholars and the merchant class. One of the most memorable works in the exhibition is a large storage jar adorned with a playful blue dragon. The other type of ware that flourished in the Joseon period is buncheon ware, a stoneware decorated with white slip in painted or stenciled designs, sometimes with painted designs in an iron-brown slip. In shape and dEcor, the buncheong wares have a straightforward, uninhibited quality.

Only a year ago, an exhibition of Korean art of this scope would have been impossible for UMMA; the Museum’s collection then consisted of forty-six pieces. The Enduring Art of the Korean Potter celebrates the acquisition, through partial gift and partial purchase, of a collection of nearly 250 works of ceramics, metalwork, paintings, and other decorative arts, built by Bruce and Inta Hasenkamp of California. A graduate of Dartmouth College and Stanford University’s Law School, Bruce’s collecting habit and love affair and with Korea began with a two-year stay in the mid-1960s as a G.I. Back in the U.S., he continued to make purchases, always seeking to build a comprehensive collection that would be ideal for a teaching institution. Bruce and Inta recognized that their gift would have a transformative impact on UMMA, but bringing the collection here would not have been possible without the enthusiastic support of the International Institute, then headed by Michael Kennedy; Meredith Woo-Cumings, Director of the Korean Studies Program; and most of all, Elder and Mrs. Sang-yong Nam, who funded the purchase part of the acquisition in entirety. Thanks to the efforts of this extraordinary group of people, Korea can finally take its rightful place among the superb collections of Asian art in the Museum.

The Enduring Art of the Korean Potter will be guest curated by one of the leading scholars in the field, Dr. Robert D. Mowry, Alan J. Dworsky Curator of Chinese Art and Head of the Department of Asian Art, Harvard University Art Museums.

Maribeth Graybill
Senior Curator of Asian Art

This exhibition is made possible by the E. Rhodes & Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and National City Bank. Additional support has been provided by the University of Michigan's Office of the President, International Institute, and Korean Studies Program, and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.