Art and City
Seoul Part I: Your next art destination
If you’re looking for the next art destination, now that international travel is opening up, Seoul should be top of the list. In the Seoul edition of the Art and City curation series, you will explore the nooks and crannies of Seoul area by area. We will also introduce some watering holes and other spots for your feet to rest.
Major galleries Lehmann Maupin, Perrotin, PACE, König Galerie and Thaddaeus Ropac have all opened new venues in Seoul over the past few years. Furthermore, the internationally renowned Frieze Art Fair launched its first Asian edition in Seoul in September 2022 with much anticipation towards the fast growing art market in Korea.
*Since the publication of the article, Seoul welcomed other international galleries including Duarte Sequeira, Gladstone Gallery, Peres Projects, Whitestone and White Cube.
This is not a momentary or passing trend, instead it is a realisation that the cultural ecology of Korea’s megacity has great potential. Seoul hosts a diverse range of art institutions, from small and mid-scale galleries to alternative and artist-run spaces. As Amy, our Chief Content Officer at eazel, perfectly stated in an interview with the Washington Post;
“While Seoul’s standing as an art destination has recently gained more international attention with the opening of new outposts by larger, global galleries, the city’s cultural landscape has always been very robust.”
1. Cheongdam: cultural hub of Gangnam, with commercial galleries and corporation art spaces
2. Apgujeong: an affluent area in Seoul, with art spaces offering cross-disciplinary exhibitions
3. Hannam and Yongsan: multicultural part of the city, with international commercial galleries
Cheongdam is in Gangnam, south of the Han River in Seoul. The word “cheongdam” means a pond with clear water, which once existed before the modern day urbanisation of the area. Until the end of the Joseon dynasty, Cheongdam was officially a small village on the outskirts of Seoul, and in 1963 it became under the jurisdiction of the Seoul Metropolitan Government. During the construction boom in the late 1970s, Cheongdam quickly grew to its current facade of fancy restaurants and bars, and the flagship stores of luxury fashion houses, set amongst high-rise buildings. Cheongdam is now the cultural hub of Gangnam, with many commercial galleries and art spaces run by corporations.
Espace Louis Vuitton
König Galerie, Seoul
10 Corso Como
Espace Louis Vuitton is an art space run by the brand’s art foundation, situated on the fourth floor of Louis Vuitton Maison Seoul. Designed by architect Frank Gehry, its sweeping glass roof is especially stunning at nighttime, while its interior was designed by Peter Marino. Inaugurated in Seoul in 2019, Espace Louis Vuitton is one of exceptional venues for exploring internationally renowned artists. With a focus on showcasing esteemed figures, featuring Gerhard Richter, Andy Warhol, and Alex Katz, the space carefully curates exhibitions from the foundation’s extensive collection.
A few minutes’ walk away is SongEun, a multi-disciplinary hub founded in 2010 which provides a platform for artists to experiment with their current practice. Exhibitions are not limited to Korean artists and extend to international networks of cultural exchanges. Located near the Cheongdam crossroad, the 1600sqm art space was designed by Herzog and de Meuron – the architects for Tate Modern, London and Parrish Art Museum, New York, which opened its door to the public in October 2021.
Next, you can visit UARTSPACE, a commercial gallery that presents artworks by emerging Korean artists. Originally founded in 1974 under a different name in Insadong, Seoul’s central gallery district, it moved to the Cheongdam area in 2003. Further up on the main street, you will find König Galerie, which is the latest addition to the area, having opened in April 2021 with a group exhibition with more than 40 artists including Alicja Kwade, Erwin Wurm, and Jeppe Hein.
*Please check the new address for SongEun before visiting, as the map provided indicates their former location.
Cheongdam is full of fashionable bars and restaurants, including Alice Cheongdam, which offers theatrical cocktails with unusual snacks. On the other side of Cheongdam there is Bar Still, which you can enter by ringing a bell, finding endless options if you are a fan of malt whiskey. If you’d prefer to settle for dinner and drinks, 10 Corso Como offers Italian cuisine with a garden for a leisurely wind-down.
If you would rather an even more tranquil part of Cheongdam, Sojeonseolim is the perfect spot. This library and bar offers a forest of books set in classic white bricks.
Neighbouring Cheongdam is Apgujeong, one of the most affluent areas in Seoul, and home to department stores stocking international luxury brands as well as Dosan Park which acts as a good landmark to navigate by. Like Cheongdam, here you can find corporate art spaces open to the public and offering cross-disciplinary exhibitions.
Coreana Museum of Art / space*c
Hyundai Motor Studio
Seoul Auction (Gangnam)
Assouline Lounge Bookstore
On the north of Dosan Park is Seoul Auction, one of the leading art auctioneers in Korea established in 1998, opening its Gangnam center in 2019; it introduces modern and contemporary art to collectors through their regular auctions with a wide range of artworks and themes. Few minutes walk down from the auction house is Coreana Museum of Art, which is part of space*c, an art and culture complex founded by Coreana Cosmetics in 2003. Coreana was first launched to encourage patronage and bridge the gap between art and the public, through exhibitions embracing experimental contemporary art.
Nearby you will find Hyundai Motor Studio which displays predominantly new media artworks on its first and second floors. Past exhibitions include Time in Silence by Daniel Arsham (2017) and their summer 2021 exhibition World on a Wire is a collaboration with Rhizome at the New Museum in New York, featuring contemporary artworks that explore the relationship between art and technology – like those by Rachel Rossin.
South of Dosan park is Maison Hermès Dosan Park, where you can see Haegue Yang’s Sol LeWitt Upside Down – Cube Structures Based on Five Modules, Central One Expanded 184 Times, Another Expanded 66 Times then Doubled and Mirrored #81-E (2017), on the third floor. The artwork was commissioned for the space in 2017 and it is planned to be on display until 2027.
Maison Hermès Dosan Park also houses an exhibition space named Atelier Hermès in the basement. Along with its biannual prize for emerging Korean artists, Atelier Hermès’ artistic programmes support Korean contemporary art, as well as promoting French artists in Seoul. Hermès Madang is also located on the first floor of the building, here you can drink tea and eat dessert from Hermès’ famous tableware.
A short walk from Atelier Hermès is Assouline Lounge Bookstore, the book publisher’s first venture in Asia which has the feeling of a French antique bookshop, with its fashion and lifestyle publications. Assouline’s luxurious cafe offers coffee and cake, or an excellent list of champagne and wine if you’re looking for something stronger. If you’d rather find somewhere for dinner and want to try some high quality Korean beef, Jeongyook-gongbang presents meat dishes with beautiful designs, paired with mouthwatering wine. For a nightcap, Melange has an extensive selection of wines from around the world which will keep you busy until 2am.
If you head north of Apgujeong and cross the river, you will arrive in the multicultural area of Hannam, which can be a great way to ease into the city if Seoul feels a little alien at first. Many foreign embassies are located in Hannam, naturally making it home to diplomats and their families, as well as a place in which expats have traditionally chosen to settle. Hannam has beautiful vistas as it looks over the Han River to the south and Namsan mountain acts as a backdrop.
Gana Art Nineone
Various Small Fires (VSF)
Amorepacific Museum of Art
DEBAUVE & GALLAIS
At the bottom of Namsan is Leeum, the Samsung Museum of Art which first opened in 2004 to share the Samsung Foundation of Culture’s art collection with the public. The museum focuses on supporting Korean contemporary art and preserving cultural heritage with its two permanent exhibitions exploring transitional Korean art, and showcasing Korean and international modern and contemporary art, including works by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Lee Bul.
Cross the road, further into the greenery is ThisWeekendRoom, a commercial gallery which was initially established in Cheongdam in 2015, and whose curated exhibitions intend to introduce young Korean artists to the global stage. ThisWeekendRoom marked its move to Hannam with a two-person exhibition of Shinyoung Park and Sangwon Kwak, titled Far in My Mirror.
Just a walk away is Studio Concrete, a complex established by an artist collective, comprising a studio, shop and café – whose spacious indoor and outdoor spaces are a perfect place to put your feet up while gallery-hopping. Studio Concrete presents diverse exhibitions and projects that question the relationship between art and people.
On the main road back towards Leeum and across two floors of Le Beige Building, you will find PACE Gallery, which moved here in early 2021 and opened with an exhibition by Sam Gilliam. The gallery’s balcony overlooks the tree-lined street of Hannam, where sculptures will be displayed during the summer months.
Cross the road further down south of PACE Gallery is Gana Art NineOne, the Hannam space of Gana Art. Established in 1983, it is one of the first major galleries in Seoul, and ever since the gallery has been presenting experimental exhibitions on the international platform.
On the busier main street of Hannam, you will find commercial gallery Various Small Fires (VSF) which has its roots in LA, where it was set up in 2012 to challenge conventional modes of art production and presentation. In 2019, VSF opened its Hannam branch to introduce American artists to Asian audiences through exhibitions such as Alternative Facts by Josh Kline, which portrays the artist’s personal narratives around water and wildfires.
If you need a little pick-me-up after walking around hilly Hannam, there is DEBAUVE & GALLAIS, a French chocolate shop not too far from VSF. Or, if you’d prefer to get a little tipsy, Pussyfoot Saloon offers cocktails in an elegant backdrop which harks back to the 1920s prohibition era; most importantly, you won’t get a better Old Fashioned anywhere else in Seoul.
If you still have a bit of energy left after exploring Hannam, the Amorepacific Museum of Art is a short taxi ride away in Yongsan, inside the lower floors of the Amorepacific HQ. The museum hosts a range of exhibitions from solo presentations of international artists such as Barbara Kruger to selections from its corporate collection. First established in 1979 to hold the private collection of the founder of Amorepacific Group, Amorepacific Museum of Art now invites visitors in with Olafur Eliasson’s Overdeepening (2018) set in its forecourt, and Leo Villareal’s Infinite Bloom (2017) is in the roof garden, which is available to the public through the museum’s programs.
Hope you enjoyed Part I of the Seoul edition for the Art and City curation series.
Continue the tour of Seoul in Part II!