The Korea Herald


Inspiration in a moon jar

Museums present old and modern white porcelain along with artworks inspired by their beauty

By Lee Woo-young

Published : July 31, 2014 - 20:52

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The pure simplicity of moon jars from the Joseon period (1392-1910) has inspired generations of Korean artists, including pioneer of abstract art Kim Whanki.

Three exhibitions this summer highlight the beauty and value of white porcelain together with the modern artwork inspired by them.

Gana Art Center displays seven of 20 remaining moon jars in the world. Moon jars are a type of white porcelain that is more than 40 centimeters tall, and made between the late 17th and 18th centuries. Their simple shape and white color signify Confucian values prevalent in the Joseon era such as frugality and purity. Those on display at the gallery date back to the 18th century. Three of them are registered by the Korean government as national treasures. 
“Jars and Flower Branch” by Kim Whanki. (Seoul Museum) “Jars and Flower Branch” by Kim Whanki. (Seoul Museum)

The gallery also unveiled 20 oil and gouache paintings by modern painter Kim Whanki, who once said, “Everything about my work is from moon jars.” The paintings are shown to the public 30 years after they were introduced in Kim’s solo exhibition at Gana Art Center in 1985.

Kim, well known for blazing the trail in Korean abstract painting, has frequently used round patterns associated with simplified images of moon jars in his pieces. His 1960s works on display at the gallery show moon jars in geometrical round shapes and small dotted patterns.
Exhibition of a moon jar and paintings at Gana Art Center. (Gana Art Center) Exhibition of a moon jar and paintings at Gana Art Center. (Gana Art Center)

The exhibition has a refined visual balance between moon jars and artist Oh Soo-hwan’s paintings. Known for abstract calligraphy painting, Oh displays dynamic, expressive calligraphic brushwork on the canvas.

Modern and contemporary artwork inspired by moon jars are also on view in another exhibition, “Admiration of White Porcelain,” underway at Seoul Museum. In the exhibition, Kim, Do Sang-bong, Sohn Eung-seong and other modern master painters present their works highlighting the refined contour, meditative beauty and spirituality of moon jars.

Contemporary artists began to portray the beauty of moon jars in an innovative and bold manner from 2000. Sohn Seok’s “hologram” painting is a fresh take. He creates a three-dimensional image of moon jars using layers of paint in different colors on a canvas. Three paintings, each featuring one big moon jar, are displayed.

Two sets of photographs interpret white porcelain differently. Artist Koo Bon-chang displays photographs of white porcelain as an antiquity that has been preserved for more than 100 years. Noh Se-hwan’s photographs capture white porcelain still in use ― dishes that serve food at a local Chinese restaurant.

The Korea Ceramic Foundation exhibits white porcelain made by modern ceramists and moon jar-inspired artworks by contemporary artists at the traditional craft center in the Gonjiam Ceramic Park in Gwangju, Gyeonggi Province.

The exhibition celebrates the province’s 600-year tradition of ceramic making. Joseon kings and their families used ceramic goods produced in the province.

Modern white porcelain works are on sale at the exhibition in an aim to popularize them.

The Gana Art Center exhibition continues through Aug. 17. Both the Seoul Museum and the Korea Ceramic Foundation will run their exhibitions until Aug. 31. For more information, visit for Gana Art Center and for Seoul Museum, and call (031) 799-1500 for the Korea Ceramic Foundation.

By Lee Woo-young (