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Art and City

Seoul Part II: Your next art destination

Welcome to Art and City: Seoul Part II, where you will explore the areas and the surroundings of Seongbuk, Bukchon, and Seochon in Gangbuk (north of the Han River) in Seoul. In contrast to Cheongdam and Apgujeong of Gangnam (south of the Han River), areas in Part II have more of a traditional feel to the neighborhood.

The history of the city of Seoul dates back to approximately 2,000 years and in Gangbuk you can still find a lot of the architecture and monuments from the Joseon Dynasty. For this reason, there is evidence of great harmony between contemporary and traditional throughout the area.

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1. Seongbuk: surrounded by the city wall, with art spaces that cross old and new

2. Bukchon: home to many Korean and international commercial galleries

3. Seochon: tranquility in the city, with alternative art spaces

Seongbuk

Seongbuk is situated on the north of Changdeok Palace, neighboring the upper section of the Seoul city wall. Overlooking the city, the area is mostly made up of wealthy households and embassies. Unlike the inner city, the small streets and narrow alleys of Seongbuk give a different sense of Seoul. Surrounded by nature, Seongbuk offers great walks along the city wall, as well as cafes and art spaces, which vary from commercial galleries to not-for-profit organizations. Pick a day with a clear sky to visit Bugak Skyway and you will see the entire city center, including Gangnam, and mountains beyond.

seongbuk map

Art Spaces

1.

CAN Foundation

2.

Kansong Art Museum

3.

Jason Haam

4.

This is not a church

5.

WESS

6.

ARKO Art Center

7.

DOOSAN Gallery

Food/Drinks

1.

Overstory

2.

Hakrim Dabang

3.

Gwangjang Market

CAN Foundation

Old House, one of the exhibition spaces run by CAN Foundation

CAN Foundation is a not-for-profit art foundation and was established to support contemporary artists to connect with the public through exhibitions and educational programs. The foundation operates three sites: Space Can and Old House for educational programs and exhibitions; Myeongnyundong Studios for artist residencies. The site of Old House has two renovated old houses for exhibitions, such as This is tomorrow Part II, adding an extra curatorial layer to the space.

Close by Space Can / Old House is Kansong Art Museum, Korea’s first ever privately owned art museum founded by Jeon Hyeongpil, an art collector and an educator who is known to have dedicated his life to preserving Korean culture. The museum houses national treasures including Hunminjeongeum, the book of Korean language characters (Hangul) invented by the 4th King, Sejong the Great of Joseon Dynasty.

The next destination is easier to reach on foot or by car. Further towards Bugak Mountain from Kansong Art Museum, you will find Jason Haam on a hillside. The space is a commercial gallery that opened its doors to the public in 2018 and has continuously been programming exhibitions by contemporary artists who are representative of their time including Oliver Arms, Linn Meyers, Sarah Lucas, Jonathan Gardner, and Daniel Sinsel.

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Virtual Visit

Daniel Sinsel, Untitled at Jason Haam, Seoul (Aug 05 - Sep 28, 2021)

Other art spaces that you shouldn’t miss are also located nearby. Closest to Seongbuk is TINC (This is not a church), a multi-purpose art space inside a former church. Once a place for worship, TINC now serves as a platform for exhibitions, performances, and workshops. Following the road to Hansung University subway station, WESS is on the main road. This co-operative platform is run by 11 independent curators based in Seoul, with a desire to continue their curatorial practices in a supportive environment.

Further down the main road is ARKO (Arts Council Korea), which gears towards building infrastructure for a wide range of cultural activities, including contemporary art, through supporting artists and providing exhibition space in ARKO Art Center. If you carry on until Jongno 5(o)ga subway station DOOSAN Gallery is also a must. As a part of the DOOSAN Yonkang Foundation, the art center discovers and fosters emerging artists and curators through their support programs.

view of Seoul from inside cafe Overstory

The view of Seoul from inside cafe Overstory

If you are a fan of cafes filled with plants, Overstory is the place for you. The cafe is by appointment only, so the space can be enjoyed in tranquility by all visitors. You can also purchase plants from the cafe and participate in workshops and learn how to take care of them. If you prefer more character in your cafes Hakrim Dabang* opened its doors in 1956, making it one of the oldest modern cafes in Seoul. It’s also where artists and musicians used to spend their time discussing their work.

If you have made it all the way to DOOSAN Gallery, then cross the road to Gwangjang Market, one of the oldest and most comprehensive traditional street markets in Korea. With more than 5,000 shops, you will find everything you need including incredible food and drinks to wind down the day.

* Dabang in Korean language means a coffee house.

Bukchon

Historically, Bukchon was an area where aristocrats and civil servants lived during the Joseon Dynasty, because of its close proximity to Gyeongbok Palace and Changdeok Palace. It is one of the most visited areas in Seoul due to its vibrancy with traditional architecture that creates harmony with the modern buildings. As one of the most popular places to visit in Seoul, it is home to many commercial galleries that present their programs on a global scale, as well as the Art Sonje Center and the MMCA (National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art).

bukchon map

Art Spaces

1.

Art Sonje Center

2.

MMCA (the Seoul branch)

3.

Lehmann Maupin (relocated)

4.

BGA Maru (closed)

5.

Arario Gallery (relocated)

6.

Perrotin

7.

PKM Gallery

8.

Barakat Contemporary

9.

Museum Head

Food/Drinks

1.

Tea House Osulloc

2.

Cafe Onion

Lehmann Maupin’s Seoul exhibition space

Lehmann Maupin’s Seoul exhibition space

On the south side of Bukchon you will find Lehmann Maupin, Seoul. This international commercial gallery, which has had extensive relationships with Korean artists such as Lee Bul and Do Ho Suh, opened its Seoul exhibition space in 2017. Since then, Lehmann Maupin has presented exhibitions by renowned international artists such as Billy Childish, Erwin Wurm, and Helen Pashgian at their Seoul venue.

*Please check the new address for the gallery. It has now moved to the Hannam area.

In the heart of the area was BGA Maru, a physical space run by BGA (Background Artworks) who offers an online subscription service with content that connects the public to art. BGA Maru was in a renovated Korean traditional house and the exhibition space could be found through the pebbled garden; it was designed so the audience can sit and take in the artworks in a relaxed environment.

Onto the busier roads of Bukchon is the Seoul exhibition space of Arario Gallery. The gallery was established in 1989 in Cheonan (about 85km south of Seoul) by an influential art collector Ci Kim, and the Bukchon venue opened in 2014. The gallery supports and promotes artists from Korea, China, India such as Choi Byungso and Eko Nugroho as well as artists from other Southeast Asian countries.

*BGA Maru has permanently closed its space, and please check the address for Arario Gallery as it has relocated.

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Virtual Visit

Eko Nugroho, Lost in Parody at Arario Gallery, Seoul (Sep 01 - Nov 14, 2020)

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Virtual Visit

Suh Seung-Won, Simultaneity-No Limit, at PKM Gallery, Seoul (Sep 8 - Oct 9, 2021)

Next door to PKM Gallery is Barakat Contemporary, which opened in 2018, two years after the opening of Barakat Seoul, a gallery dedicated to ancient art. Barakat Contemporary was launched to present experimental exhibitions of contemporary art showing works by international and Korean artists including Shezad Dawood, Wael Shawky, Yangachi, as well as Yunchul Kim, who represented the Korean Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2022.

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Virtual Visit

Yangachi, Galaxy Express at Barakat Contemporary, Seoul (Oct 15 - Dec 27, 2020)

On the edge of Bukchon you will find the latest addition to the area, Museum Head, a curator-run and not-for-profit exhibition space, which also houses a tea house called Delphic above the gallery. The space dedicates itself to valuing the physical presence of curatorial practice. As the concept of ‘space’ and ‘non-space’ is constantly being questioned by the digital phenomena, art spaces like Museum Head are worth giving attention to.

If you want a different kind of caffeine, Tea House Osulloc located on the main site of MMCA, offers a great selection of green tea from Jeju Island, giving you a refreshing break between the galleries. Cafe Onion is perfect if you are a little peckish and in need of mouthwatering sweet bakes with your coffee. The cafe is housed in a renovated traditional Korean house, where you have options to sit around the table on the floor.

Seochon

From Bukchon, take the tree-lined road on the north side of Gyeongbok Palace (the main royal palace from the Joseon Dynasty) and you will get to Seochon; an area vibrant with plenty of new eco-friendly cafes and restaurants. Seochon has a long history of artist presence and the area naturally continues to nest art spaces that are both commercial and alternative. The area is also within walking distance of the city center where it is lively with more museums and public art.

seochon map1

Art Spaces

1.

PS Sarubia

2.

Leeahn Seoul

3.

Artspace Boan 1942

4.

Ilmin Museum of Art

5.

Seoul Museum of Art

6.

MMCA (Deoksu Palace)

Food/Drinks

1.

The Book Society

2.

Cafe Qyun

3.

Earth Us

PS Sarubia is an alternative and not-for-profit gallery devoted to supporting experimental Korean artists to create and present their work in a non-hierarchical environment. The gallery was originally inaugurated in Insadong, a market area for traditional pottery and paper, in 1999 and moved to its current location in 2011.

Not far away is Leeahn Seoul, established by collector-turned gallerist Hyeryung Ahn in 2007 in Daegu (located around 200km from Seoul) and subsequently opened their Seochon space in 2013. The gallery promotes Korean artists, especially from Daegu, on the global platform and introduces international artists to Korean audiences with exhibitions such as the solo presentation by Elizabeth Peyton.

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Virtual Visit

Elizabeth Peyton at Leeahn Gallery, Seoul (Jun 15 - Jul 31, 2021)

Exterior of Artspace Boan

Exterior of Artspace Boan 1942 neighbouring Gyeongbok Palace

Across the road from the west side wall of Gyeongbok Palace is Artspace Boan 1942. The building used to be an inn for travelers between 1942 to 2005 and was reborn as a cultural hub for site-specific art in 2007. The art space also has a new building next to it, with a guest house on the third and fourth floors, a bookshop, and a cafe, as well as additional exhibition space in the basement.

eco-friendly cafe in Seochon

Exterior of Earth Us, an eco-friendly cafe in Seochon

Around the corner from Artspace Boan 1942 is The Book Society, a publishing collective that has also curated exhibitions and art projects since 2010. The independent bookshop sells and distributes books related to contemporary art and design.

Near the Blue House (the residence of the President of Korea) you will find a well-kept hibiscus garden. On the northeast side of the garden is Cafe Qyun, where you can enjoy natural wine and food. All dishes are vegan friendly and they also sell jars of fermented food.

If you have a little bit of room left, Earth Us makes seasonal cakes as well as cortado coffees which are very similar to the ones you would find on the streets of Barcelona. The cafe is well known for its refusal of disposable products, so if you want those delicious cakes and coffees to go, take your own tubs and tumblers!

Installation view of Claes Oldenburg’s Spring

Installation view of Claes Oldenburg’s Spring (2006) on Cheong-gye stream

Towards the City Hall from Seochon is Ilmin Museum of Art on the junction of Sejong-daero at the beginning of Cheong-gye stream, which flows through the city center. The museum opened in 1996 with a belief that art enriches the lives of people. Ilmin Museum of Art presents exhibitions across disciplines, expanding the conversation of contemporary culture.

Next to the museum is Donga Media Centre where you can see Daniel Buren’s site specific work, Les Couleurs au Matin Calme (2018-2019) on the building’s windows; it is especially vivid during the night as the windows are lit up. In front of the building is Claes Oldenburg’s Spring (2006), installed where the footpath to Cheong-gye stream starts.

Down the road in Deoksu Palace, you will find a MMCA space, which presents works by both Korean and international artists. On the other side of the wall is the Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA) which opened to the public in 1988 and since then it has been organizing educational programs and other projects, as well as exhibitions. It has several other sites across the city including Nam June Paik Memorial and Nanji Creative Art Studio.

Hongdae and Yeongdeungpo are also worth a visit for alternative art spaces. In the Hongdae area, you will find Chapter II and CR Collective. Chapter II is a not-for-profit art space established by U.PINE Med Inc., in support of artists leaving art school and stepping into the professional realm. CR Collective opened in 2016 to provide exhibition space as a cultural complex; it is part of Ilsim Foundation which was established in 2007 to support students and young adults through scholarship programs in the cultural sector.

Cross the river from Hongdae is Yeongdeungpo, where you can find Show and Tell and Project Space Yeongdeungpo. Show and Tell is an artist-run exhibition and project space that dedicates itself to providing non-hierarchical space for artists since opening in 2017. Project Space Yeongdeungpo is also an artist-run space that began in 2018 with a desire to provide a platform for artists with challenging yet ambitious projects.

seochon map2

Art Spaces

1.

Chapter II

2.

CR Collective

3.

Show and Tell

4.

Project Space Yeongdeungpo

With nearly 10 million people living in the megacity, Seoul offers a diverse range of art spaces, from commercial galleries and national museums to corporative-run not-for-profit spaces to artist and curator-run project platforms. They each present Korean and international artists with their own ethos, but together they create a wonderful ecology, creating synergy as a whole. Seoul is a perfect place for your next art destination, the city is ready to show you around these charming art spaces.

Visit other areas of Seoul, exploring more art spaces and local gems with eazel via Art and City: Seoul Part I