Korean ceramics called buncheong have a unique beauty, simplicity and ageless quality. It’s difficult to distinguish these amazing 15th- and 16th-century works of art from modern creations.
Sixty-four masterworks from the Leeum Collection of the Samsung Museum of Art in Seoul, along with several vases owned by the Asian Art Museum, are part of “Poetry in Clay,” an exhibition opening Friday at the museum.
The occasion coincides with Chuseok, the Korean celebration of autumnal equinox. On Saturday, the Korea Foundation is sponsoring Korean Culture Day, providing free museum admission, docent tours, storytelling, food tasting and musical performances.
Buncheong, which translates to “white-slipped celadon,” describes the process of covering the ceramics with a mixture of white clay and water.
The “white slip” is decorated sparingly and in subtle ways with flowers, animals, geometric and abstract designs. Celadon refers to the pale sea-green color, or a piece of porcelain or fine pottery of that color.
Asian Art Museum Director Jay Xu calls the exhibit “one of the most important collections of Korean ceramics in the world.” It will be on view only in San Francisco and at New York’s Metropolitan Museum.
Buncheong is a contemporary term, but the art it defines dates back to the early centuries of the Joseon Dynasty, which ruled from 1392 through 1910. Throughout history, buncheong wares were intended both for daily use and as art collected by royalty.
Buncheong ceramics are formed on a wheel, and as the craft progressed, potters embraced both informality and experimentalism in their work.
Among the treasures in the show is a 600-year-old “bottle decorated with peonies and dots.” The decorative motif was etched into the clay while it was still moist, then the object was covered with white slip before it was fired.
Buncheong is one of many aspects of Korean culture “borrowed” by Japan, which invaded Korea in the 16th century. Through the centuries and even to present day, Korean ceramic art and artists’ influence on Japanese tea ceremonies is evident.
IF YOU GO
Poetry in Clay
Where: Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St., San Francisco
When: Opens Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays; closes Jan. 8
Tickets: $7 to $12
Contact: (415) 581-3500, www.asianart.org
Note: The Korea Foundation sponsors free admission and activities 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.