Untold Beauty; Korean Craft and Design: Cromwell Place, 4 Cromwell Place, SW7 2JE London

16 - 24 September 2023

Untold Beauty draws on a distinctive period in Korean craftsmanship refined during the Joseon dynasty (est 14c). Presenting works by contemporary practitioners, it explores the current return to Joseon’s contemplative aesthetic: featuring ceramics, furniture, textile, and woodworwk including the Moon Jar.

Clean, non-decorative and functional everyday objects were made and used as ethical propaganda in Korea’s last dynasty: the Joseon period that spanned 500 years (14th – 19thC). The Joseon style was established as a reaction to the previous dynasty’s rich and lavish culture, with the new country following the teachings of Confucius and advocating a modest way of living. The royal court used non-decorative white porcelain ware whilst noble men and women preferred smaller, simpler, and fewer objects to display in their homes. The ‘luxury’ that endured however, was the use of exquisite materials and the fine craftsmanship that was required to remove impurities from raw materials to achieve a pristine surface.

Material properties bring subtle changes to the form - in those pre-industrial times where everything was man-made, traces of the human touch and the process remained on crafter objects. This evidence of the human on the works of this time brought a particular warmth and uniqueness to the otherwise simple everyday objects. It was in this period that the iconic Moon Jar came to the fore, gaining importance as a key representation of the Joseon aesthetic, demonstrating both minimalist and human qualities.

With the industrial revolution, contemporary Korea had a new mission to grow its economy, and the ethos of the Joseon’s elegant period was, in the main, forgotten until now. In recent years, whilst South Korea’s dynamic pop culture has become an international phenomenon, the country has seen a new movement, reviving the Joseon aesthetic in art and design. Designers, makers, and artists are finding inspiration from traditional forms, materials, processes and in traditional values of that dynastic period, holding these at the core of their contemporary practice. Some practitioners are dedicated to adopting the meditative mindset of the traditional Korean craftsmen as they work: emptying thoughts and desires to create pure beauty without the expectation of focused intent. Untold Beauty will explore how this nostalgic style, so bold in its original intentions, can be reinterpreted to speak to our current times, creating a sense of calm through material and form within our hectic digital age.

Cho In-sung, Furniture
Hyun Tae-ju, Ceramics
Jin-ju-yo, Ceramics
Kim Hyun-ju, Metal & Mother-of-pearl
Kwak Hye-young, Ceramics
Lee Geum-young, Ceramics
Lee So-ra, Texile
Mok-su, Wood
Park Sung-wook, Ceramics
Shin Dong-boem, Ceramics
Shin Sung-hyun, Furniture
Yu-sun Won, Ceramics