Duson Gallery Seoul, an art and design gallery founded in 1977 in Seoul and committed to promoting Korean craftsmanship in the world, is participating for the first time in Milan Design Week with the exhibition Mother-of-Pearl Tables, staged at Triennale Milano from April 18 to 23.
A cross-cultural project combining the centuries-old South Korean tradition of mother-of-pearl craftsmanship with contemporary design, the Mother-of-Pearl Tables exhibition marks the meeting of East and West and features the gallery’s collaboration with six internationally renowned designers, Alessandro Mendini, Elena Salmistraro, Marcel Wanders, Marco Zanuso Jr, Stefano Giovannoni, and Younghee Cha, who were called upon to interpret in the form of small tables with a strong artistic value, Jagae, mother-of-pearl, a material that embodies the essence of Eastern craftsmanship and culture.
The objects were made by Deokgun Jang and Gyesoon Kang, master craftsmen working in the Tongyeong region, one of the best-known for mother-of-pearl production and processing.
Mother-of-Pearl Tables: Foglia design by Alessandro Mendini
Foglia is an unpublished coffee table from an original drawing by Alessandro Mendini from 2016 found in the sketch collection of his Archive. The development of the design was overseen by Studio Alessandro Mendini with the collaboration of Younghee Cha and bears the signature “Alessandro Mendini. Cose,” the collection conceived by the celebrated designer with Elisa and Fulvia Mendini in 2018, born from the desire to create a series of editions drawn from the great heritage of objects, projects, and drawings contained in the Archive.
The glossy black lacquered wood top features a leaf-shaped decoration made with the mother-of-pearl inlay technique according to the millennia-old Korean tradition by highly skilled master craftsmen. The central leg in two-tone pink and yellow lacquered wood is star-shaped.
Mother-of-Pearl Tables: Molan design by Elena Salmistraro
The Molan coffee table transforms the shape of the typical Korean hat, the Gat, reinterpreting it into a circular rotating profile that vaguely resembles the conformation of cyclones, resulting in a unique and distinctive object. Its sleek, wrap-around silhouette attracts attention, while its smooth, polished surface shines through the use of fine mother-of-pearl decorations that rework the ancient Korean tradition in a contemporary key.
Molan is an object that combines Korean tradition and culture with elements and codes typical of contemporary design, pursuing the result in a sophisticatedly elegant language. Mother-of-pearl is used to create intricate patterns and designs, also strongly inspired by tradition, making it a unique and unrepeatable work of art.
The enveloping shape generated by the rotation, represents a further challenge for Korean master craftsmen, as it requires precise and refined workmanship: this is deliberately juxtaposed with pure, solid, simple elements, which give it compactness and, by entering into a kind of formal contrast, grant it a strong stage presence. The supporting surface is smooth and uniform thanks to the use of a glass plate that does not obscure the sinuous form and enhances the elegance and lightness of the object, as well as making it innovative, precious, and rare.
Mother-of-Pearl Tables: Fiore Fossile design by Marcel Wanders
The Fossil Flower table designed by Marcel Wanders is inspired by one of nature’s most primal and perfect forms: those of a black pebble set among rocks. A simple and pure form that reveals its deepest beauty through the ornaments of mother-of-pearl petals made according to ancient Korean wisdom. Within each flower unfolds a world, a perfect beauty born of skilled hands, a symbol of love, made from the heart, a treasure of art that endures forever. The surface of the pebble, rough and smooth at the same time, in each glimmer of iridescence, hides a promise of hope, a dream of light, a memory of love, a vow of trust, a message of beauty taking flight.
Mother-of-Pearl Tables: Soban design by Marco Zanuso Jr.
Intimate and comfortable, Soban is a contemporary take on the traditional Korean lacquered wood table tray, used since ancient times for multiple functions, as an individual dining table, tea tray, desk, or even as an altar for memorial rites for ancestors.
A symbol of Korean craftsmanship, the soban was an object that combined elegance, refinement, and functionality-the same characteristics that inspired Marco Zanuso Jr. in his modern version for Duson Gallery Seoul. The oval top made of dark red lacquered walnut wood is inlaid with small dot-like mother-of-pearl inserts that, in their essentiality, act as precious points of light inspired by the purest elements of the natural world, such as drops of water or stars in a clear winter sky. In contrast, the base is made of Canaletto Walnut and Zebrano wood strips, which give verticality to the object and emphasize its lightness thanks to the clean lines.
Mother-of-Pearl Tables: Cherry Tree design by Stefano Giovannoni
The cherry tree, traditionally a symbol of the Orient, inspires the shape and decoration of the Cherry tree coffee table, a unique piece with extremely sinuous shapes, made of ash wood. The base, like the trunk of a graceful plant, narrows toward the top and then opens seamlessly at the top into the tabletop. The latter hints at the thick foliage of the cherry tree, with a sectional view revealing within it flowering branches made of precious mother-of-pearl inlay, expertly decorated by Korean craftsmen. Two variants are available, one lighter that plays tonally with the warm color of the mother-of-pearl, the other darker that accentuates the contrast of light and shadow.
Mother-of-Pearl Tables: Ocean design by Younghee Cha
Ocean, with a natural black lacquered wood frame, is a coffee table with dual functionality: thanks to its two heights, it can be used individually or in pairs, offering varying geometric perspectives. The ocean that washes the shores of Tongyeong, a prime location for the harvesting of the mother-of-pearl abalone shellfish, inspired the Korean designer, who proposes two motifs for the coffee table top: the first is inspired by the tracks of the waves crashing on the shoreline, while the second is a reminder of the shiny shells on the sea floor.
The decorations, made of white mother-of-pearl inlays with subtle natural hues, are expertly crafted by Korean master artisans in a tradition dating back thousands of years. The shapes and colors of the Ocean table enclose and tell stories of small creatures from underwater worlds. Mother-of-pearl represents symbols of the universe, reproduces the shape of time, and creates pearl reflections that shine like starlight.