As Bruce heads to Paris to take in Maison et Objet, I’m reminded of my trek to M&O last January when I also had the opportunity to visit d’Oradour-sur-Glane and Limoges—the latter the epicenter of production of the finest French porcelain. I was invited to these bucolic towns to tour the factories of Bernardaud, whose products are among the highest quality offered anywhere in the world. How remarkable is their heritage? Their Historic Table Collection includes patterns created for royalty on par with Louis XV (shown above) and Marie Antoinette. If history is not your cup of tea (pun intended), many of the contemporary creations in their Limited Edition Collection are envisioned by art-world celebrities Vik Muniz, Marc Chagall, Alexander Calder and Jeff Koons.
As my adventure to learn about all things Limoges commenced, Hélène Huret, the Directrice of the Fondation d’entreprise Bernardaud, whisked several of us away from the company’s boutique on the rue Royale to board a southbound train. The wonderful dinner and the overnight in the lovely town was such a treat, as was the access I was granted to both factories, the tours of which I shared in this piece I published in March. I couldn’t believe I was seeing their talented craftsmen and women make products I recognized from some of the most luxurious experiences I’ve ever had, such as the porcelain in the image below taken during afternoon tea at Claridge’s.
Though I could go on and on about the luxuriousness of their products and what I learned during the tour, the subject of today’s Bruce Andrews Journal entry has a more culturally significant slant. As we sped along on the train, I learned about the effort, which began in 2002 when Michel Bernardaud, the chairman and CEO of the company, created a foundation, the Fondation d’entreprise Bernardaud, and brought Hélène on board as director.
The foundation’s aim is to draw attention to the varied qualities of porcelain that go mainly unnoticed. This is achieved by having artists and designers of all nationalities and all backgrounds engage in a creative give-and-take with the craftspeople employed by the company. The sky is the limit, as long as the physical result is structurally sound, and the artists who experiment with the porcelain have developed unexpected applications outside the realm of tableware during the past decade and a half thanks to this program.
Each summer an exhibition opens to highlight the year’s works. This year’s show, which runs from June 17 through November 5, features 14 of Korea’s leading contemporary artists who created 70 works of art from a variety of materials, including porcelain. I spoke with Hélène last week to ask her about the exhibition and her thoughts about the artists who visited this summer to see their works on display.
Exploring Bespoke Traditions Through Art
Hélène explained that she tapped Hyeyoung Cho to help her choose the artists who would be included in the effort this year because she is internationally recognized for her work with contemporary Korean ceramics and crafts, and she is so familiar with the artists in the country: “She brought the Korean eye to the effort and I brought the European eye. Together we made the selection and most of the artists created pieces specifically for the show.”
Twelve artists attended the opening, as did the ambassador of the Republic of Korea and other distinguished guests. “These are young people and their generation is questioning what to do with their heritage,” she remarked. “They are asking, ‘What does my culture mean to me?’” This remark Hélène made about their quest to understand heritage is strikingly resonant with our desire at Bruce Andrews Design to infuse the American furniture industry with a meaningful reemergence and to contribute significantly to bespoke traditions.
Hélène also explained how the artists’ experimentations took them into bold new territory, particularly for the ones using porcelain as their media: “For the most part, they are accustomed to using clay and in particular porcelain, a complex material to handle as it shrinks 14% in the kiln. The spirit in which they approached the project and the visual artistry they achieved is amazing.”
One symbol of Korean heritage that was explored in many of the works on view is the Moon Jar, which was represented in the exhibition in some very avant-garde ways. She explained the deeper significance underlying a number of these works, comments that I’m sharing here illustrated with the pieces she is referencing. “Seunghee Lee is one of the artists who talks about heritage,” Hélène explained. “His focus is mainly on the making process and many of his works, such as this one [above], is best described as a large porcelain tile he creates that he uses like a canvas. He applies tinted liquefied porcelain to create his visual imagery in very light relief.”
Sekyun Ju’s rendering of a Moon Jar [above] is equally surprising once the medium is explained, and his quest is admirable. “In the Korean universities, everything is based upon drawing,” Hélène says. “After graduating, Sekyun went to the most remote places to work with potters so he could create authentic representations of the works they made. This piece is treated like a canvas, as the surface has been enhanced by applying pencil shading allowing the work to appear almost two-dimensional although it is actually a wheel-thrown piece. And he only records important pieces to document historical artifacts.”
“Bohnchang Koo is a photographer who has worked closely with internationally recognized museums over the years to record important Korean artifacts, as they are few and rare,” Hélène says of the above piece in the exhibition. “He captured ‘Moon Rising’ to echo phases of the moon using the traditional Moon Jar as his subject.”
“Sinhyun Cho’s vessel may look like it has had delineations carved into it but it hasn’t,” Hélène remarks. “It is made of slip-cast porcelain, which means it has been built up in layers—each one of which has to dry before the next can be applied. This means it can take months to make one of these works of art.”
Soyoung Park’s “La Citta’ Blu” is one of the works Hélène points to when highlighting how challenging porcelain can be to work with artistically because of shrinkage. This artist takes very thin sheets of the material and intricately cuts out buildings that become negative spaces for light to penetrate once she manipulates them. “She wants to create interesting shadows because her work is an experiment based on positive and negative space like the yin and yang, light and shadow, visible and invisible in Asian philosophy,” Hélène noted. “Park studied ceramics first in Korea and then, for about two years, in Faenza, Italy, which she says opened her eyes to the world.”
We at Bruce Andrews Design salute Bernardaud for opening our eyes to the beauty of Korean artistry, and we congratulate Michel, Hélène, Hyeyoung Cho and all of the artists who achieved these soulful works of art for bringing their view of heritage to the world stage. Do you have a favorite piece I’ve featured here? If so, please leave a comment so we know which work of art spoke to you the most.
This post, Heritage Explored Through Art at Bernardaud, © Bruce Andrews Design, all rights reserved. Our furniture is now available through Nandina Home in Aiken, SC; Jalan Jalan in Miami, FL; Travis & Company in ADAC in Atlanta; and the Ellouise Abbott showroom in Dallas, TX. We will soon be showing in the Ellouise Abbott showroom in Houston and in the Michael-Cleary showroom in Chicago, IL.