Teo Yang – Collectors’ Island

July 3, 2019 4:44 pm

Teo Yang did not become a collector by chance. Some of his most cherished pieces were handed to him by his paternal grandparents who had to flee their home during the Korean War (1950–53).Ninety percent of the family’s collection was lost in their exile to Busan, in the south of the country. Every word Teo Yang utters about his collection seems to be an effort to fill that loss. The large, delicate canvasses of ancient Korean calligraphy that hang on the walls of his house stand witness to the tradition he wants to honor: they are royal certificates attesting that the Yang family once worked for the king. His ancestors had preserved them since the eighteenth century and they were almost the only items Teo’s grandparents kept during their exile: ‘ They knew they could earn money again, but if they lost all these certificates, they’d never recover the lineage of our family name,’ explains Teo in a reverential tone. Conscious that their children might never reunite after the exile, they gave one certificate to each of them: ‘That way, if they ever found each other after many years, they’d recognize each other and know they were siblings.’ Fortunately enough, they never had to make use of them: once the war ended, the family reunited in Seoul. Today, those certificates are the family’s most valued possessions.

Each year the Genevan watchmaker Vacheron Constantin releases an art book titled Collectors’ Island, this year I photographed the entire book and this is one of ten stories included.

Many thanks to Bradley Seymour for the invaluable creative direction, and to Lara Lo Calzo for her exceptional work as Editorial Manager.

Text and captions were written by Isabel Cadenas Cañón.

Teo Yang holds one of his Korean earthenware pieces from the Gaya period (42–532 CE). Behind him, some of his favourite Gaya-period pieces.

Above and Below: Earthenware cups from the Gaya (42–532 CE) and Silla periods (57 BCE–935 CE). The cups are estimated to be made between the third to sixth century. Over time, the handles have disappeared and they are not commonly found on Korean ceramics. Teo Yang is especially interested in ancient artefacts with contemporary forms.

Two pieces from Teo Yang’s earthenware collection, with custom-designed bronze mirror.

Teo Yang seated in front of his family treasure, two framed letters from the kings of the Joseon dynasty, handed down by his grandparents. They are formal verification that his family worked for the royal court as high-ranked officials.

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