Art and Seoul: Where to see contemporary art in South Korea’s capital

As Seoul’s new National Museum of Modern and Contemporary art gets ready to open its doors, Art Radar takes a look at the best places to see contemporary art in the South Korean megalopolis.

Scheduled to open at the end of 2013, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art’s new Seoul branch is in Samcheong-dong, one of the main gallery districts in the city. Named the UUL National Art Museum, the new branch is just one of the places to see contemporary Korean art in Seoul.

View of alternative art space LOOP, Seoul. Image courtesy LOOP.

View of Alternative Space LOOP, Seoul. Image courtesy LOOP.

Starting with the area surrounding the forthcoming UUL National Art Museum, Art Radar looks at spaces focused on contemporary Korean and Asian art, mapping where to go to experience Seoul’s art scene.

Samcheong-dong

Samcheong-dong is packed with contemporary art galleries and is always in flux. Some more notable galleries in this area, including PKM, Art Sonje Center, Kukje Gallery and Gallery Simon, present artists both from Korea and around the world. Some of the spaces in Samcheong-dong focus on emerging South Korean artists: Palais de Séoul opened in 2010 and, according to their Facebook page, “aims to discover young artists and share their works with the general public.” On 10 November 2013 the gallery opened “The Bunker” with artwork by Seo Jae Hyun, featuring images of organic creature-like objects that are wrapped in fine hair. On the other side of the royal palace One and J Gallery, founded in 2005, is a leader in galleries that focus on young contemporary artists from South Korea.

Interior view of alternative art space LOOP, Seoul. Image courtesy LOOP.

Interior view of Alternative Space LOOP, Seoul. Image courtesy LOOP.

Alternative Space Loop

West of Samcheong-dong, Alternative Space Loop is tucked away on a side street close to Hongik University, one of Korea’s leading art schools. The gallery space itself is striking and angular, jutting out among the more pedestrian buildings surrounding it. Alternative Space Loop is known for its focus on emerging Asian artists and prides itself on “defining alternative Asian art and culture by confronting western-oriented globalisation.” The space also encourages interdisciplinary artwork and creates an international network for similar spaces.

Donghyun Son, ‘The Ring’, 2011, ink and color on paper, 60 cm in diameter, at Doosan Gallery, (New York, USA). Image courtesy Doosan Gallery.

Donghyun Son, ‘The Ring’, 2011, ink and colour on paper, 60 cm x 60 cm. Image courtesy Doosan Gallery.

DOOSAN Gallery

With spaces in both Seoul and New York City, DOOSAN Gallery, founded in 2007 by the DOOSAN Yonkang Foundation, is not just an exhibition space. DOOSAN also has an artist residency, curator workshop and an art school. According to the website, the space’s mission is to be “a base for the international activities of young Korean artists.”

Between 10 October and 7 November 2013, DOOSAN held Sojung Lee’s solo exhibition “Linkage”. According to the press release:

Using the brush strokes and splashed ink of Korean painting, Sojung Lee auto-spontaneously draws organic and abstract images that are repeated and connected. Although no specific shapes are expressed in Lee’s artworks, at times, images resembling parts of the human body or vegetation are revealed. This exhibition presents artworks initiated from her individual inquiry into whether it is possible for her to re-represent the lost and forgotten images in the midst of her existing works.

“Linkage” is followed by Jaye Rhee’s exhibition “Gravity and Lightness” opening 14 November to 31 December 2013. The gallery is located in Jongno-gu, just southeast of Samcheong-dong.

Byen Ung Pil, 'Self-portrait as someone. Apple 3', 2013, oil on canvas, 116.8 x 91 cm., shown in the exhibition "With Art, With Artist!" at Hyeri Art Valley, Paju. Image courtesy the artist.

Byen Ung Pil, ‘Self-portrait as someone. Apple 3’, 2013, oil on canvas, 116.8 x 91 cm., shown in the exhibition “With Art, With Artist!” at Hyeri Art Valley, Paju. Image courtesy the artist.

Art Space Jungmiso

Art Space Jungmiso, a non-profit space opened in 2003, is located in the backyard of Korean National Open University in Dongsin Building. The small space’s 2013 exhibitions include Hoe Se-Yeon’s “Space Odyssey”, a collection of prints of otherworldly scenes in muted tones and gauzy layers of floating objects atop unfamiliar terrain.

Minouk Lim The Weight of Hands, 2010 Performance still Courtesy the artist and PKM gallery Bartleby Bickle and Meursault, Seoul

Minouk Lim, ‘The Weight of Hands’, 2010, performance still. Image courtesy the artist and PKM gallery, Bartleby Bickle and Meursault, Seoul.

Hyeri Art Valley in Paju

If you are willing to hop on a bus for about an hour, a trip out of Seoul into Paju will allow you to see a different side of the contemporary art scene in the city’s environs. The Hyeri Art Valley, situated just a few kilometres from the Demilitarised Zone between North and South Korea, boasts numerous galleries, cafes and shops. Hyeri was established as a “book village” in 1997, but as the area was cultivated, artists of various interests, crafts and talents came to the valley. Chiefly featuring contemporary South Korean artists, the numerous spaces embrace a variety of art, such as representative paintings by Byen Ung Pil, surreal photography by Bak Hyong Rol and kitsch outdoor sculptures. In contrast to the cosmopolitan urbanism of the spaces in Seoul, Hyeri Art Valley was constructed to blend in with surrounding structures, with all buildings standing no more than three stories tall.

June is an ideal time of year to visit the Art Valley because the annual “With Art, With Artist!” exhibition, a collaboration between numerous spaces in the village, takes place at that time. When you are taking the bus from Seoul to Paju, take a look North (to your left) and catch a glimpse of North Korea.

Where to find out more

The art scene in Seoul is multi-layered and vast. For additional resources read Blouin ARTINFO’s “When in Seoul: Top 5 Must-Visit Art Districts” or pick up a Seoul Art Guide, found in most tourist huts around the city.

Kate Korroch

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Related Topics: Korean art and artists, events in Seoul, art districts, art overviews

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