Freer Gallery of Art Announces Cranes and Clouds. The Korean Art of Ceramic Inlay

An important assemblage of Korean ceramics in the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art collection will be on display in “Cranes and Clouds: The Korean Art of Ceramic Inlay” beginning Nov. 5. The exhibition inaugurates a newly renovated gallery dedicated to the arts of Korea and reaffirms the museum’s commitment to representing Korean artistic accomplishments.

Forty-four stoneware vessels dating from the 11th through the 16th century illustrate a decorative technique known as sanggam, the art of inlaying designs using black-and-white pigments. The exhibition highlights the evolving use of inlay during the latter half of Korea’s Goryeo dynasty (918–1392) and the early centuries of the Joseon dynasty (1392–1897).

“Sanggam was one of Korea’s great contributions to worldwide ideas of ceramic decoration, producing vessels distinguished by sharply contrasting colors, crisp outlines and repeating pictorial patterns,” said Louise Cort, curator of ceramics.

Goryeo potters developed the sanggam technique by the mid-12th century to decorate tableware and ritual vessels used by the court and nobility. It involved inserting white-and-black clay-based pigments in liquid form into stamped or carved motifs on the surface of the vessel, which was then coated with a translucent celadon glaze.

A highlight of the Freer collection, a kundika (water bottle), with its elegant herons wading in a stream, cranes soaring through clouds and ducks swimming in a lotus pond, is a featured work of the exhibition, exemplifying the finest in two-color sanggam technique.

A striking change in the use of the technique took place during the early Joseon dynasty, when Korean potters shifted to using only white inlay, partly in response to the emergence of white porcelain as a sought-after ceramic. Instead of the formerly precise black-and-white designs, potters applied thick, dense white pigment with large brushstrokes to their vessels, as seen on several bowls and bottles throughout the exhibition.

The Korean ceramics, installed in the newly renovated Gallery 14, are positioned in relationship to the Freer’s galleries of Chinese art. This neighboring location allows for deep cross-cultural comparisons and the opportunity to reflect on the changing nature of ceramics across countries and centuries.

The adjacent exhibition “Chinese Ceramics: 10th-13th Century,” in Gallery 15 will feature two dozen Chinese ceramics from the Freer collection, highlighting the glazes and the skills of Song dynasty artisans.

For information on programs planned in conjunction with the opening of the Korean Gallery visit The National Museum of Korea has provided financial and curatorial support for this reinstallation of the Freer Gallery’s Korean collection.

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