Tak­ing in a bit of Korean cul­ture

Business World - - WEEKENDER - Text and pho­tos by Cathy Rose A. Gar­cia As­so­ciate Edi­tor

SEOUL — While most tourists flock to shoot­ing lo­ca­tions of Korean dramas or shop for Korean cosmetics, of­ten over­looked on their itin­er­ary are the many mu­se­ums in South Korea.

South Korea’s place in the art world has been ce­mented with the Gwangju and Bu­san bi­en­nales. In past years, Seoul has hosted ret­ro­spec­tives on Van Gogh, Renoir, Rodin, Warhol, and Pi­casso, while in­ter­na­tional artists reg­u­larly hold solo shows there.

Sam­sung’s Leeum Mu­seum of Art boasts of Ma­man by Louise Bour­geois, while the Ho-am Mu­seum houses a cast of Rodin’s The Gates of Hell and The Burghers of Calais.

Sev­eral gov­ern­ment-run mu­se­ums, some of which of­fer free ad­mis­sion, pro­vide a deeper un­der­stand­ing of Korean cul­ture and his­tory.

The Na­tional Mu­seum of Korea is the largest in the coun­try, and show­cases Korean cul­tural as­sets. It has over 300,000 pieces in its col­lec­tion, but only around 15,000 are dis­played at a time.

Some of the must-see pieces are the 10-storey Gyeongcheonsa Pagoda (Na­tional Trea­sure No. 86) and a 5th cen­tury gold crown (Na­tional Trea­sure No. 191).

Korean con­tem­po­rary art is dis­played at the Na­tional Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art’s main branch in Gwacheon and its two Seoul branches — one in­side Deoksu Palace and an­other next to Gyeong­bok Palace.

For a quick in­tro­duc­tion to mod­ern Korean his­tory, the place to go is the Na­tional Mu­seum of Korean Con­tem­po­rary His­tory, lo­cated along Gwangh­wa­mun.

Through in­ter­ac­tive dis­plays (in English and Korean), vis­i­tors learn about the birth of the Repub­lic of Korea — its strug­gles dur­ing the Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion, lib­er­a­tion in 1945, the Korean War, the coun­try’s rapid eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, and the De­moc­ra­ti­za­tion move­ment.

A rooftop garden on the mu­seum’s 8th floor of­fers ex­pan­sive views of Seoul’s main road Gwangh­wa­mun and its park, as well as Gyeong­bok Palace and the moun­tains be­hind it.

Vis­i­tors are also given a chance to ex­pe­ri­ence the Korean War us­ing vir­tual re­al­ity gog­gles, as well as sit be­hind the Pres­i­dent’s desk at a mockup of the Cheong Wa Dae of­fice.

The real Cheong Wa Dae — the pres­i­den­tial res­i­dence also known as Blue House be­cause of its blue roof tiles — is just a 15-minute walk away from the mu­seum. It has its own mu­seum called Cheong Wa Dae Sarangchae, which is open to the pub­lic. There are ex­hibits there about the coun­try’s pres­i­dents and his­tory in the last 60 years.


Sev­eral mu­se­ums are worth tak­ing a trip out­side Seoul for.

Mu­seum SAN (Space Art Na­ture) is tucked away in­side the Oak Val­ley re­sort in the moun­tains of Wonju, Gang­won prov­ince. “San” in­ci­den­tally also means moun­tain in Korean.

Ja­panese ar­chi­tect Tadao Ando, who de­signed the mu­seum, was quoted in a 2014 Fi­nan­cial Times in­ter­view as say­ing he wanted to “cre­ate a garden mu­seum in the sky, a dream­like mu­seum like no other.”

Vis­i­tors walk through the sculp­ture garden amid trees cov­ered in rust and yel­low leaves to reach the main build­ing. A stun­ning red arch­way by Alexan­der Liber­man rises over a path­way to the mu­seum, sur­rounded by pools of wa­ter re­flect­ing the stun­ning fall fo­liage.

Na­ture, art, and ar­chi­tec­ture com­bine to make a visit to Mu­seum SAN a mem­o­rable one. It has a Pa­per Gallery ded­i­cated to Korean pa­per craft; the Cheongjo Gallery fea­tur­ing a few Korean mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary art pieces; as well as a hall show­cas­ing a work of video art pioneer Nam June Paik.

For some, the high­light are Amer­i­can artist James Tur­rell’s art­works — Sky Space, Hori­zon Room, Ganzfeld, and Wedge­work. “The beauty of light and the sense of in­fi­nite space by Mr. Tur­rell will make you med­i­tate on your­self,” the mu­seum said.


Haslla Art World, lo­cated in Gangne­ung, Gang­won Prov­ince, is not just a mu­seum but also a ho­tel. Over­look­ing the East Sea, the mu­seum-ho­tel boasts of stun­ning views, a sculp­ture park, stylish rooms, and quirky art pieces.

Haslla is de­signed by artist cou­ple Ok-yung Choi and Shin-jung Park, who wanted to bring art closer to the peo­ple. The mu­seum fea­tures a hodge podge mix of col­or­ful paint­ings, sculp­tures, and in­stal­la­tions, which are very “In­sta­gram-able.”

A tun­nel con­nect­ing the mu­seum to a Pinoc­chio ex­hi­bi­tion, may re­mind fans of Net­flick’s Stranger Things of dark pas­sage­ways in Up­side Down.

On dis­play at the Pinoc­chio ex­hibit are toys, paint­ings, and sou­venirs — all in the im­age of the beloved fic­tional char­ac­ter. A mu­seum do­cent says the owner chose to fo­cus on Pinoc­chio as a way to make art more re­lat­able to chil­dren, and even adults.

MU­SEUM SAN is de­scribed by its ar­chi­tect Tadao Ando as a “garden mu­seum in the sky.”

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