Ana Brdar writes A Guide to Seoul’s Top Contemporary Art Galleries
For the most of the post-war period, Seoul has remained largely off the radar when it comes to contemporary art. However, Korea’s rapid modernization and economic success resulted in an emerging art scene that has been building up for the last couple of decades. The increasing numbers of world-class museums, galleries and art collections can be attributed to private initiatives, sponsored by country’s biggest companies such as Hyundai Motors Co. and Samsung, but also generous state funding, which is increasingly being allocated towards arts. These efforts have resulted into solidification of Seoul as one of the most important capitals in Asia in regards to contemporary art. Here are some of its most important institutions.
Established in 2013, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) is located near the historic Gyeongbokgung Palace, in the heart of Seoul. In a re-purposed space that once served as the Military Defense Command building, it displays an impressive volume of works by both Korean and international artists. An initiative prompted by Korea’s former president Lee Myung-bak, the opening of the MMCA was a milestone event for promotion of Korean culture, as it was the first national institution solely dedicated to hosting contemporary art.
In the bustling, multicultural neighborhood of Itaewon, you will find the famous Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art (featured pic), established by the Samsung Foundation of Culture. The museum is split into three sections, designed by three renowned architects – Mario Botta, Rem Koolhaas and Jean Nouvel, who all took inspiration from traditional Korean culture in order to construct these spaces. One part of the museum is dedicated to traditional art, which includes ancient pottery, Buddhist statues and different types of paintings and manuscripts. The second part of the museum hosts pieces from the biggest names of international modern art scene, including Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter and Cy Twombly, as well as Korea’s very own contemporary art giants like Lee Ufan and Kim Hong-joo. Outside of the museum, several open-air installations add to its ethereal appearance, the most striking one being Anish Kapoor’s gigantic sculpture in stainless steel, titled Tall Tree and the Eye.
A pioneer in promotion of contemporary art, Kukje Gallery comprises three architecturally impressive buildings (K1, K2 and K3), the most recent cubic-shaped venue designed by the Brooklyn-based architecture firm SO-IL. Since its foundation in 1982, Kukje Gallery has hosted prominent contemporary artists such as Jenny Holzer, Donald Judd and Eva Hesse. The gallery has also collaborated with numerous international art fairs, exhibitions and biennales, whose platforms it used to showcase and boost visibility of local talent.
Despite the growing number of fascinating art venues in Seoul, it still feels like the Korean capital is only at the early stages of developing its contemporary art scene. With the increased popularity of Korean culture abroad and the country’s incessant economic growth, who knows what kind of exciting artistic ventures we might witness in a decade or two.