It’s no coincidence that Seoul’s most popular neighborhoods – Samcheong-dong, Insa-dong, Cheongdam-dong and others all have one thing in common: art galleries. With increasing wealth, leisure time and international travel, more and more young Koreans have added art appreciation to their afternoons spent chatting in cafés or shopping in boutiques.
This week we’ll start a two-part visit to popular art galleries in Seoul. Our first stop is to central Seoul’s Sogyeok-dong and the Kukje Gallery. One of several world-class galleries located along Samcheong-ro boulevard, Kukje is widely regarded as one of the Korean art scene’s most important venues for showcasing contemporary Korean and foreign art.
For starters, Kukje Gallery’s appearance stands out from the line of sedate concrete boxes occupied by the neighborhood’s other galleries. The building’s striking yellow and gray façade mixes concrete and glass with abrupt angles. An almost funny touch is a sculpture of a casually dressed woman, who appears to be racing up the building’s roof. No hint as to why she’s fleeing or where she’s going.
Since opening in 1982, the Kukje has distinguished itself by bringing some of the world’s leading contemporary artists to Korea for local audiences. Works by Damien Hirst, Jean-Michel Basquiat (Bahs-key-ya), Jenny Holzer and Eva Hesse have been exhibited in its Seoul space. Simultaneously, the museum has also played a vital role in garnering greater exposure for Korean artists abroad. This commitment to exposing Korean art and artists to non-Korean collectors is exemplified through Kukje’s participation in international art fairs for the past 13 years.
On a recent visit, the gallery had just finished setting up U Sunok’s “Drawing for a While” solo exhibition. A professor at Ewha Woman’s University in Seoul, U’s installations, drawings and video works are said to focus on the nonexistent, the intangible, and the fantastic. In one exhibit, retro televisions were set amongst a forest of potted plants. From outside the gallery, light emitted by the installation could be seen reflecting various colors from the walls.
The gallery’s main building features two floors of exhibition spaces. While the exterior is playful, the interior has the minimalist, almost industrial feel common to contemporary art spaces. For example, both stories feature polished concrete floors, white walls and wide-open spaces.
Located across the courtyard is Kukje’s Space 2 gallery. On my visit, the art of German contemporary photographer Candida Höfer was on view. Twelve works from her Neues Museum Berlin series depict the historical building during its restoration. Built in a Prussian style and heavily damaged during World War II, it was reopened in 2009 after being left derelict for some six decades. The exhibit explains that the building was recently added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Aside from the great art, visitors to the Kukje Gallery can also enjoy its modest bookstore, which sells dozens of beautiful soft and hard cover art books. Also connected to the gallery is The Restaurant. That’s actually its name. Lauded for its emphasis on fresh ingredients, beautiful presentation and delicious course meals, you might expect that its interior décor is also modern and artistic.
Well, that wraps up our visit to the Kukje Gallery. You can watch streaming video at world.kbs.co.kr and follow me on Twitter at “discoverkorea.” Thanks for watching.
Kukje Gallery can be reached via Line 3’s Anguk Station (exit #1).