It was Wednesday the 16th and I woke to find the sun had died! Grey overcast, cold, gloomy and completely miserable weather. I’d planned to visit West Seoul Park near Gimpo Airport to endure the airport noise and explore an award-winning piece of urban renewal; cancelled!
What does one do on a sleety, wet, cold rainy day in Seoul? Stay in bed and sulk, retire to a coffee shop iPad in hand? No, galleries; there are thousands. With that in mind I carried out a little research over toast, eggs and coffee; later heading for City Hall. Yes, City Hall the fabled gargantuan tsunami shaped monstrosity that overshadows Seoul Plaza.
As I emerged from the heavily guarded station the snow engulfed the escalator and I stopped for a second to look at the art installations. The tangerine creätures set against a turquoise concoction were striking. Seoul they (the guards) need to smile a little if you want people to visit and spend their hard earned foreign exchange. I hadn’t initially realised that you could exit directly from the station because the unwelcoming and intimidating guards offered no gestures or help and the signage (as is usual in SK) terrible. So, I retired under my mustard hood, cached against the wintry weather and headed up the escalator towards the Plaza. Needless to say at this ungodly hour the skating rink was devoid of habitation. The warmth of City Hall beckoned.
The interior is impressive and extremely photogenic but the web of steel, for me, as a former engineer, seems over-engineered. I would be interested to listen to Lord Fosters views! The central artwork is an enormous glass chandelier, a beautiful organic form that never fails to impress. I settle in the atrium to do a little more gallery research before realising there is a 9th floor café accessed by a fast lift. The other areas were heavily guarded and seemed to need ID cards for entry. This is what riles me about this type of public building, citizens pay taxes to accommodate politicians in these glass palaces then they have limited access to “their” building and the politicians instead of being transparent and available are hidden behind locked doors.
I reached the lovely café that had Scandinavian designer furniture, lovely coffee and accommodation my by now muffin addiction. What shocked me were the view, there weren’t any. I’d expected wonderful view across Seoul from this eighth story platform, you cannot see out!. What were the architects thinking about, it simply highlighted the bulbous wasted space that inhabits the top of the tsunami wave. That’s me done I have no more to say, other than the lovely atrium space on the ground floor this building fails to meet most of my expectations for a public building.
I left approaching 11am as my next destination the Ilmin Art Museum was due to open. I turned right off Seoul Plaza heading towards Gwanghwamun Square stopping at the Korea Press Centre to admire an installation of brolley’s paying homage to Magritte. Further along a piece of war art “Thanks Runs Forever,” this was the remnants of a street exhibition celebrating America’s support during the Korean War. In the context of intervention I suppose SK is the most successful of the countries America has had influence over. I passed Cheonggye Plaza with Madonna’s “titty” on the right and arrived at the Ilmin.
The Ilmin Museum of Art building is a historically symbolic building, which was originally built-in 1926 as the corporate headquarters for Dong-a Ilbo. The building was used for printing newspapers until 1992 when Dong-A Ilbo moved its headquarters to a building in Chungjeongno. Using this opportunity, the Ilmin Cultural Foundation opened the Ilmin Cultural Center at the then-vacated building in 1994. Once all the necessary approvals and paperwork were successfully completed, the Ilmin Cultural Foundation opened the museum in December of 1996.
The exhibition was called “Galapagos”, the name itself captures the imagination but the exhibitions not specifically about Galapagos but about “survival” in the modern world. “Galapagos” is a Sci Fi novel (Kurt Vonnegut) which narrates how the human race is destroyed by a meteorite, tourists are stranded on the said islands and they develop into half seal/half human creatures because of some genetic virus that eats human eggs. So what is it about, the novel that is, well me-thinks it’s a comment on how we are obsessed with celebrity, fame, but in essence if a catastrophe occurred we would all be made equal again, it would of course survival of the fittest. I still have no idea how that translates to the exhibition but does it matter? The artwork is visually stimulating and worth a visit, meanwhile perhaps we should all read the novel?
I crossed over to the main square and in the bowels of the King Sejong Centre for Performing Arts is the “King Sejong Story”. Did you know that Hangul is the most “suitable” language for the digital age? Well you do now, that is why the world uses the Hangul Alphabet created by the said Sejong! The exhibition itself is just a narrative of his life, too dark and a mirror of the weather outside, give me the colour of Galapagos and Madonna’s titty anytime. If I need back and white give me the photographic art of Giacomelli.
Left searching for my Seoul I “passed” the new Museum of Contemporary Korean History crossing over to Geongbokgung, viewing (once again) the touristic molestation of the poor buggers/actors playing the guards. The weather improved but it was still brassy, I passed through the courtyard cutting across the National Palace Museum of Korea to the Daelim Art Museum.
Now this exhibition would have given Gangnam some glitter and Style! Labelled “Sparkling Secrets.” It’s a historical journey of the brands history (from 1895) but provides a stunning glimpse of Swarovski’s best-kept secrets. The exhibition also unveils new interpretations of crystal in stimulating art collaborations with Korean artists. It also illustrates the company’s fashion legacy through its many fashion collaborations with iconic couture houses such as Coco Chanel and Christian Dior. The futuristic gaudy pink/violet pavilion in the garden double up a s a shop, the mirrored kaleidoscope made for an interesting self-portrait. Quite a contrast to my perceptions of Vonnegut’s Galapagos but beyond that dichotomy both exhibitions are attractive in their own rights.
It was coffee time so I strode past the cohort of armed guards and emerged at the Metro station taking the single stop journey to Anguk exit 1. Lunchy beckoned so I wandered up Byeolgung-gil past girls Middle and High schools towards the Sonje Art Centre. The sourness of the King Sejong experience had been replace by blue skies and a spring in my step. There are a couple of galleries along this stretch (on the left) worth a visit, and free.
I stopped for lunchy at an eatery which offered cutlets of pork or fish for under a fiver. Battered Seoul (Shinchon) eat your heart out, fresh food cooked in fresh oil with a lovely side salad, home-made tartar sauce and a small tasty soup! Tremendous. I then turned left into the Art Centre were I managed to get to the fourth floor before being accosted for not paying! I’m hardly stealth burglar, there were no signs SK! The art was interesting and a little kinky, images of men in rubber masks and the crawling female with mask and limited lingerie. Mmmmmm!
I turned left and left again towards the galleries of Samcheong-dong, before reaching SD I noticed a lovely café with a gallery below. I met the artist Sung-Uck Kang who relayed his life story, his wife had changed the locks because he was “too poor”. His sculptures were made from polycarbonate, a couple of them cast in stainless steel, he called the exhibition “Transformation.” Click here to view.
Kang studied in Germany and spent some time on the UK in the early 00’s. His strong, graphic sculptures look amazing when used as public art on a grander scale aka Kapoor. Upstairs I had yet another coffee but this time enhanced with the tastiest brownie this side of heaven. The new National Museum of Contemporary Art is under construction across the road (should have been finished in 2012).
I left turning right towards and then left into Samcheong-dong, following the new museum perimeter. When you reach the end of the construction site you’ll find around 10 more galleries in the next 200 metres; including the Kumho, the Hyundai and the Artsagan. After a good couple of hours here in the company of Gormley et al I headed down to Insadong. I came across a man so protected by his religious beliefs that he wore a mask to avoid death by socialisation.
I pottered around Ssamziegil and explored the Insa Art Centre, it hosted a Pop Culture exhibition. The balcony offers great view across Jongno; it appears the top two floors of Ssamziegil are under reconstruction, health and safety ignored! Time for my nap. Later that evening after death by garlic chicken I reflected on what started as a horrible day, thanks to the galleries of Jongno it was saved. :-).
I am (I think) safe from vampires tomorrow!