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.
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 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.
Kansong Art Museum
This is not a church
ARKO Art Center
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.
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.
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.
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).
Art Sonje Center
MMCA (the Seoul branch)
Lehmann Maupin (relocated)
BGA Maru (closed)
Arario Gallery (relocated)
Tea House Osulloc
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.
On the way to the more hilly side of Bukchon, you will pass Perrotin’s Seoul space, which opened in 2016. The three-tiered building with a garden offers a 240 square meter exhibition area. The gallery introduces international artists to the Korean public including Laurent Grasso, KAWS, Daniel Arsham, Izumi Kato, Josh Sperling, and Claire Tabouret.
At the top of the hill is PKM Gallery, which first opened its doors to the public in 2001. Since then, the gallery has been presenting exhibitions by both Korean and international artists who reflect the flow of contemporary art including Hernan Bas, Olafur Eliasson, Peppi Bottrop, Koo Jeong A, Lee Bul, and Suh Seung-Won. PKM Gallery boasts incredible showrooms with the main gallery boasting a 5.5-meter ceiling, an annex (PKM+), and a cafe with panoramic views of Bukchon.
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.
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.
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.
Artspace Boan 1942
Ilmin Museum of Art
Seoul Museum of Art
MMCA (Deoksu Palace)
The Book Society
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.
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.
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!
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.
Show and Tell
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