Steven Young Lee

‘Harmony through dissonance’: Steven Young Lee’s ceramic sculptures

The latest offering in the APEX series includes smiling dragons and slumping vases


When Steven Young Lee was invited by Grace Kook-Anderson, the Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Northwest Art, to exhibit as part of the APEX series, the artist made a trip to Portland to study the museum’s collection of 19th-century Korean Joseon dynasty art. As an American of Korean descent, the collection was of particular interest. Lee’s practice explores issues of identity and belonging by borrowing images, designs and forms of artwork and imbuing them with his own interpretations. For the APEX exhibit, Lee chose two works from the museum’s collection: a 19th- century Korean Storage Jar with Design of Two Dragons Chasing Flaming Pearls and a late 19th-century Korean Tiger and Magpie painting. The works serve as touchstones for the exhibition; they are objects of beauty and reference points for the ideas the artist explores in his own work. His approach is respectful yet at the same time irreverent, referencing historical traditions and time-honored techniques of glazing and decoration but adding unexpected surprises and a sense of humor to his ceramic sculptures.