Nature and Tradition Inspire Innovative, Contemporary Korean Design
Sinewy lines, precious materials, and sculptural forms inspired by nature are all characteristics embraced by contemporary Korean design, a field that has prominently emerged from South Korea over the past five years. Kang Myungsun, Bae Sehwa, Bahk Jong‐Sun, and Lee Hun Chung are among a wave of designers to watch, featured by Seoul’s Galerie SEOMI at last December’s Design Miami/, and now in the spotlight in New York, for Edward Tyler Nahem Fine Art’s first design-centered exhibition. We take a look at the four designers on view and the objects they create best.
Kang Myung Sun utilizes traditional lacquer and inlay techniques from her South Korean heritage to create incredibly modern design objects, including shelving objects, tables, and chairs. Visually stunning and deceptively practical, her “From the Glitter” series resembles underwater sea creatures or shells, and are so cleverly designed that one is surprised to find her ovoid cabinets open up to reveal shelving. Taking mother-of-pearl to a new level, her eye for volume and texture effectively translates the storied medium into contemporary culture.
Combining methods of digital rendering and physical craft, Bae Sehwa creates beautifully balanced benches in futuristic forms composed of natural walnut. Beginning by designing his shapes and creating molds digitally, he then uses steam to soften strips of wood, waits until they are malleable, then bends them by hand, placing them in the mold to stiffen into new organic shapes. Sehwa’s fluid forms are inspired by nature’s harmony, recalling the ebb and flow of waves, and mountains, peaks, and valleys; they emanate tranquility and invite one to rest.
Also with a masterful ability to manipulate wood, Bahk Jong Sun draws attention to the natural allure of wood grain. Inspired by the teachings of the Korean Joseon dynasty that proposed lives lived free from excess, Bahk’s forms employ minimal square and rectangular planks of wood, which are combined in contemporary compositions. His appropriately titled Tranquil A / Tranquil B chairs prove his subtle sensibilities and ability to reinvigorate and modernize traditional forms.
Known for stunning, one-of-a-kind stools, Lee Hun Chung also translates tradition into the present, drawing from Korean ceramic traditions to create his ceramic and concrete furniture and objects. Lauded for his layered glazing and patina, Chung masterfully applies a foamy, blue-green celadon to many of his works, a glaze that dates back to the 15th century. Inspired by the mountains that surround his home, he explains, “In color and form, the ceramic objects are reminiscent of the nature and seasons in Korea.”