Yesterday at the Seoul Museum of Craft Art (SeMoCA) in the South Korean capital, Dahye Jeong was named the winner of the 2022 Loewe Foundation Craft Prize, becoming the first-ever Korean artist to win the prestigious Spanish luxury house competition.
Inspired by Loewe’s beginnings as a collective craft workshop in 1846, creative director Jonathan Anderson created the award in 2016 to celebrate the art of contemporary craftsmanship. Since then, Loewe has held an award ceremony and corresponding exhibition every year in a different city.
With its booming cultural scene and growing worldwide interest in Korean contemporary art, Seoul was a natural choice for the fifth edition.
The victory was a surprise for the young winner. “It’s surreal,” Jeong told Artnet News after the ceremony. “It took some time to calm down after seeing Gong Hyo-jin in front of me.” Gong, a South Korean model-turned-actress, presented the award as a brand ambassador.
Jeong won with his coin A time of sincerity (2021), an aerial vessel woven with fine horsehair, reviving a technique used more than 500 years ago, under the Joseon dynasty in Korea (1392-1910). The artwork’s designs reference the Sabanggwan, a square-shaped horsehair hat worn by nobility in the 1500s.
“Because of the ordinance banning chignons, men of nobility no longer needed to wear hats,” the artist said. “Horsehair had been used in accessories in various ways, and I thought it was a shame that this unique Korean tradition suddenly disappeared.”
“I wanted to show the historical significance of horsehair craftsmanship through these designs. Coming to study, I felt a sense of a mission to bring back this technique. Currently, the craftsmanship is only practiced on the island of Jeju, where Jeong is from.
Jeong was chosen from 30 finalists, whose practices focus on everything from textiles and basketry to jewelry, carpentry, ceramics and glass. Initially, there were more than 3,100 submissions from 116 countries and regions.
This year’s contest attracted the most entries from Korean artists, and seven of the finalists were from Korea.
Led by Anderson, the jury included leading figures from the worlds of design, architecture, journalism and museum curation, such as Magdalene Odundo, Deyan Sudjic, Abraham Thomas and Patricia Urquiola. Together, they praised the delicate precision of Jeong’s work while celebrating his dedication to reviving and updating the lost Korean tradition.
“The decision was almost unanimous,” said Hongnam Kim, a jury member and former director of the National Museum of Korea. “The fact that she used horsehair was significant, and the way she was able to create patterns with this very fine material was impressive. It’s a delicate and labor-intensive process and we We were extremely impressed that this young artist was able to bring back a 500 year old tradition.
“It is extremely important to draw people’s attention to this historic folk craft. That’s why it’s important to modernize it — it’s a matter of relevance. No artist I know has done this and I was so thrilled to see it resurface thanks to Jeong,” she said.
Anderson himself found Jeong’s work to be “incredibly poetic”.
“I think it’s quite witty and I like its kinetics,” he told Artnet News. “There is something alive in the room, after all. I love that kind of reimagining of the past in the ship,” he said.
“I think a lot of people, myself included, were intrigued by the precision of something so simplistic. Using a material like horsehair has this kind of otherworldly feel. It’s a silent piece, but when you’re in its presence, it demands a lot of attention as an object. It’s phenomenal.
For Jeong, the artwork not only had historical significance, it also had a healing effect.
“Horsehair might be weak on its own, but woven together it could create shape and still be strong,” she said. “This solid, three-dimensional aspect consoled me because I was going through an anxious state when I started this work. I didn’t have a solid career; I was not confident. By working on it, I learned to support myself, just like the hairs that support my piece.
Two artists received special mentions this year: Andile Dyalvane from South Africa for Cornish wall (2019), a clay vessel paying homage to the Xhosa culture with its torn ceramic plates and lines formed by a handmade bonsai brush, and Julia Obermaier from Germany for her rock crystal jewelry, Verborgen (German for “hidden or concealed”).
The works of the 30 finalists are exhibited until July 30, 2022 at SeMoCA. Amid an influx of international art galleries such as Lehmann Maupin and Pace setting up shop in Seoul, it recently opened as the country’s first museum dedicated to Korean craftsmanship.
“There’s such scope and protection of craftsmanship in Korea,” said Anderson, who previously visited his capital five years ago. “Culturally, craftsmanship is revered here.
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