Cultured Magazine

Winter 2015

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158 CULTURED An exhibition at the Musée des Arts décoratifs in Paris celebrates contemporary Korean design. BY TIM MCKEOUGH CULTURAL EXCHANGE PHOTOS BY BERENICE CURT Linus Adolfsson believes the relative paucity of Korean creations on the international design scene, long dominated by European talents, is largely a matter of poor timing. As the managing director of the Los Angeles-based design gallery Seomi International, he points out that Korea has a rich, centuries-old tradition of arts and crafts. However, after World War II, the area plunged straight into the Korean War of the 1950s, while European designers were busy defining a new language for modern design. "Korea never had that renaissance period," he says—until now. A new generation of South Korean artists and designers is studying the country's past and developing contemporary furniture and objects that process ancestral ideas and philosophies through a 21st century lens. To highlight this creative uprising, the Musée des Arts décoratifs in Paris has mounted "Korea now! Craft, Design, Fashion and Graphic Design in Korea," which takes in some 700 works by 150 different artists and designers. Among the most intriguing participants are four artists represented by Seomi, who work with dramatically different forms and materials. Lee Hun Chung is best known for pushing the limits of ceramics to create pillowy new shapes, sometimes with indentations resembling fabric tufting, and drippy translucent glazes that look almost like patinated metal. To fire his pieces, he uses time-tested wood-fired kilns. "Only one out of five works can withstand the temperature," he says. "But the ones that survive become extremely durable," allowing him to perch a 200-pound concrete tabletop on a single ceramic base, as he has done in Paris. The furniture created by Bahk Jong Sun is a study in minimalism, and based on simple wooden rectilinear forms. Inspiration comes not from the pared down creations of his Japanese neighbors, but from the small-scale, porous furniture produced during Korea's Joseon dynasty from the 14th through the 19th centuries. "I only use traditional Korean tools," he says, "and I believe as much in the process as the finished pieces." Bae Se Hwa employs traditional Korean steam bending and wooden nails to build curvaceous wooden furniture. In Paris, he is showing Meditation, completed in 2007 as one of his earliest works—an ash wood bench that swells in the center like an expectant mother. "Instead of using the piece to just sit," he says, "I want the spectator to study it, meditate and get lost in it." Choi Byung Hoon, widely considered the elder statesman of contemporary Korean design, offers similarly organic lines but in mixed materials. At the Arts décoratifs, he is showing a pebble-shaped wooden bench underpinned by a natural stone boulder and a sculptural oak table with one leg made from irregular stacked stones. "Our artists are reinterpreting historic methods, traditions and even aesthetics," says Adolfsson. "They're bringing them forward with contemporary language and forms." Bahk Jong Sun's Trans-14-005, Trans-14-007 and Trans-14-006 benches. Above, Choi Byung Hoon's Afterimage bench and dining table; Lee Hun Chung's Mushroom and Double Macaron stools and Pentagon table

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