For a traveller visiting commercial contemporary art galleries in Seoul. There are many, maybe not as many as in New York City, but there are a lot. And many of these galleries are in along Samcheong-Ro in the Jongno-gu district, you hardly need a map to find these galleries, there is one next to another.
Jongno-gu district is a great place to explore and see exhibitions in commercial galleries, there is interesting architecture, lots of great places to eat and lots of young Korean women in short summer dresses or short shorts. The galleries are often purpose built spaces with large well-designed spaces.
Galleries are closed on Mondays and on Tuesdays many of the art galleries are still closed for installations with the exhibitions opening in the late afternoon of Wednesday.
My one complaint about the Korean art scene there are too many flowers. Yes, I understand there is a tradition of floral art but I saw three or four floral painting exhibitions on my walks around Seoul’s smaller galleries. As well as all the paintings of flowers there are garlands flowers at exhibition openings – flowers are not necessary for art. Aside from the exhibitions of floral art (enough with the flowers) I saw some world-class exhibitions of contemporary art in my wandering between Seoul’s galleries.
Choi Jung Hee’s solo exhibition wasn’t floral at GMA (Gwangu Museum of Art); Choi was paintings of bamboo in a screen of large coloured dots or the reverse of that screen. The colours, optics and concept of this series of paintings all came together in one painting where Choi had added another screen of writing. Bamboo forms are connected to Chinese writing in a deep sense, the European alphabet is also said to be connected to trees, and in Choi’s painting the painted bamboo and the writing approach unity again.
“In a Moment, We Awe” at Hakgojae Gallery is an awesome group show (I always worry that with a title like that you won’t but in this case they definitely did awe). “Broken Mirror” by Lee Yongbaek was so awesome; watching mirrors break in slow motion on a gold-framed mirror was great, watching it in a room with four large mirrors doing that was awesome. He is great with a paintbrush as I could see from his plastic fish painting, as well as any other media and represented Korea in the Venice Art Bienniale 2011. (His sculpture, “Pieta: self-death” was on the roof of the gallery combining both the positive and negative parts.) All of Lee Yongbaek’s work in the exhibition was from his Venice Art Biennale exhibition. Other artists in this exhibition also impressed (if not awed) including Seok Lee paintings and installation play with the image of the gallery space. And Heo Suyong’s painting of caterpillar with nepenthes was a creepy antidote to all the flower paintings.
Choong-Hyun Roh’s exhibition “Prosaic Landscape” at Kukje Gallery was just that paintings of prosaic landscapes. Often the landscapes are the same riverside locations but at the wrong time of year in the mid-winter snow or the summer rainy season. Snow on a 7/11 convenience store is as prosaic a landscape as you could encounter.
At Gallery Doll there was carved and painted wood by Shin Jeong Eun; the work is like paintings by Magritte carved in low relief and more yonic than Magritte would have dared.
One more gallery before they shut at 6pm – finger painting by GuGu Kim. GuGu Kim’s finger painting technique roamed from photorealism, to cheeky designs to primitive, raw and childish- I liked it best when he did them one on top of the other. I don’t know why I haven’t seen more artists doing this but GuGu Kim is the only finger painter I’ve encountered.