Art & Culture

The latest art exhibitions and theater reviews—plus Seoul’s best galleries and cultural venues

Kwon Young-woo: Various Whites
Art

Kwon Young-woo: Various Whites

Dansaekhwa, considered by many as the international face of contemporary Korean art, was a movement that was only recently discovered upon grouping paintings from the 1970’s. From the ashes of the Korean War, when the country was stricken with poverty, artists had to manage with as little as possible. Finding beauty within emptiness and subtlety, many internationally acclaimed Dansaekhwa artists found unique approaches to manipulate the materials of paintings. Work of Kwon Young-woo, a critical leader of the movement, is being shown at Kukje Gallery. This fairly small exhibition (named Various White) highlights the white hanji (Korean rice paper) works done from the 70’s and 80’s, many which have never been shown to the public. Kwon’s later paintings, those that were done in Paris, are currently being shown at Art Basel in Hong Kong. Kwon’s monochrome paintings (or portrayals of manipulating rice paper) are seemingly empty yet full of movement. These movements are not just two-dimensional as they form a variety of textures on the surface of the canvass, subtly and rhythmically offering glimpses of three-dimensional movement. The details of the dynamic three-dimensional sculptures are all random, creating shadows that are unique by each manipulation, further adding to the vibrant movement within the monotony. Upon taking a step back however, there is a sense of unity and control that seems extremely well coordinated. The exhibition also offers a rare interview footage of the

Major photography exhibitions
Art

Major photography exhibitions

Want to learn more about photography? Whether you want to be a fashion photographer or landscape photographer, it’s always great to see masterpieces that are already out there. With a few great photography exhibitions in town, don’t miss this chance to learn and take in the different approaches of the art form. 

Isaac Julien: Playtime
Art

Isaac Julien: Playtime

The pulsating sounds and the luxuriating visuals in this dark room, which is lit by the 7 projections being displayed, are rather overwhelming. Your eyes will move quickly as you constantly try to find the visuals that are in synchronization with the voices and sounds, getting lost as easily as finding the right projection. It seems as though this is, in effect, Isaac Julien’s method of not only highlighting the complexity of the idea at hand but also luring his audience into understanding his artistic endeavor for his piece Playtime:  an artistic analysis on the excess and failures of global capitalism. Being taken from London to Reykjavik in Iceland and even Dubai, the 70-minute long video installation is indeed an experience, revealing lavish seduction of the lustrous deceptions of global wealth through a darkly satirical narrative. This exhibition is a short but time-consuming one. For that, you may be tempted to begin with watching the main piece, Playtime,  located on the 4th basement floor. If, however, you are willing to take your time to fully engage in the conversation that Julien is portraying, it might be better to begin with The Leopard which provides an understanding of the artist's method of delivery. Proceeding to Kapital which offers an insight into the definition of capital, the centerpiece Playtime awaits — just make sure to prepare yourself for its intensity, and try not to get intimidated by its complexity.

YOUTH
Art

YOUTH

Who are the leaders, consumers and trendsetters of the future? What is their current culture, and what do they represent? Why or how did these specific cultures come about? The YOUTH exhibition which has recently opened at Hannam-dong’s D Museum deals with such sociological and philosophical questions. Focused on youthcultures from around the world, it presents works created by more than 28 young artists. Its aim is to portray the youths' continuous struggles and fight for expression in hopes for a better life. As cliché as it may sound, you will be delighted to see authentic ways these young artists formulated their unique ideas along with D Museum’s interactive curation. There are two parts to the exhibition. The first section on the basement floor reflects on looking inside the minds of youths and their fight to liberate the expressions hidden within them. Once you descend to the basement gallery, the atmosphere suddenly changes — to dark and powerful, something similar to that of a prison, with the interior designed to resemble a forgotten construction site. Finding your way through the maze of metal bars and fences, what you will be exposed to is such rawness exuded by the artworks. This whole experience could come off as a statement of 'devolution' of society, characterized by its vulgar visuals and harsh words. Yet, what it ultimately suggests is a reflection of the often stigmatized process of growth and the turbulent agony that lies within. As you ascend to the se

Egyptian Treasures from the Brooklyn Museum
Art

Egyptian Treasures from the Brooklyn Museum

Night at the Museum – many have surely fantasized about it. And being here in Seoul, one might wonder what it would be like if Yongsan’s National Museum of Korea were to come alive. Unfortunately, the collection being shown right now are centered on art, hence no dolls or animals to go around the museum at night. It could also be because of the absence of Ahkmenrah and his tablet. Although there may be no coming-to-life artifacts, the special exhibition “Egyptian Treasures from the Brooklyn Museum” will surely have the National Museum crowded. As one of the largest museums in Asia, the National Museum of Korea presents two or three “blockbuster class” exhibitions every year, and luckily, this year, in collaboration with the Brooklyn Museum in New York, the museum is featuring 229 treasures from the ancient Egyptian collection. The Brooklyn Museum is also well known for its comprehensive Korean art collection and has a dedicated Korean Gallery space to display Korean art and culture. So, yes I had to go see it. At 11 o’clock on a weekday, I did not expect to see a huge crowd that was so apparent even from afar. Getting closer to the crowd, I realize that school holidays have begun; there were flocks of students eager to get in. At that moment, I knew it was impossible to have a leisurely viewing in the exhibition. It was a nightmare. As a loving and generous adult, it didn’t seem right to work myself into a pool of boisterous children. Kids, I would love to actually see the

Time Out says
  • 3 out of 5 stars

Must-see art shows

Davinci Codex
Art

Davinci Codex

Codex (da Vinci’s collection of scientific recordings) takes a modern twist, allowing viewers to break the boundaries of art and science, at DavinciCodex exhibition at Culture Station 248.  Although at times the connection between the artwork and Leonardo may be not as solid, it is more important to understand that some of these works have been inspired from the Codex or can be connected with many of da Vinci’s philosophies. The first piece of the exhibition (Shylight by Studio Drift) for example, glorifies nature going along with what da Vinci once said, “The most wise and noble teacher is nature.” As you watch the floral white drapes fall in accordance to the mellow background music, you will be astounded by the pure beauty of the blossoming drapes highlighted by the hidden light inside. This poetic experience of gazing upwards at the symbolic movement subtly triggers you to investigate the relationship between art, nature, humanity and technology, setting the mood for the rest of the exhibition. On the other hand, works by Leonardo3 (a studio dedicated to researching and incarnating the designs and texts of da Vinci) are what allows us to critically examine the Codex and brilliance of Leonardo’s thinking. Unfortunately, all of these pieces that are scattered throughout the exhibition are somewhat disappointingly stagnant. Although an interactive digital platform offers additional information of the models along with videos on how the mechanisms function, it would have be

Time Out says
  • 3 out of 5 stars
Kumho Young Artist
Art

Kumho Young Artist

Kumho Museum presents the 4 winners of the Kumho Young Artist Program, Choi Byeong-seok, Shon Kyung-hwa, Lee Dong-geun and Hwang Sue-yeon. Concerning struggles of adulthood, the exhibition looks into relatable personal experiences. Shon, who has studied in Paris, Chicago and London, for example, explains how she was both an insider and outsider in each city, a “complex maze” as she describes. Lee examines the effect of our information-flooded lives and how we have become oblivious to the space we live in, while Hwang challenges the normativity in perception. The exhibition will be open until April 2nd.

Yoo Hyunmi
Art

Yoo Hyunmi

Yoo Hyunmi’s numerical works of art shown at Savina Gallery, could be seen as a mathematical perception of art. Within a confined space, the physical numbers appear like sculptural forms, juxtaposed with casual objects and lines to formulate a philosophical equation. The space then turns both 2D (from the lines), 3D (from the forms), and even 4D(represented by the numerical figures). What does each number mean in relation to the object they stand close to? Why do some numbers rely on other objects or lines to garner more presence? These are some of the questions that rise upon looking and even being involved in Yoo's works.

THE FAR GAME: Constraints Sparking Creativity
Art

THE FAR GAME: Constraints Sparking Creativity

Arko Art Center is holding a homecoming exhibition for the Korean Pavilion’s return after completing the Venice Architecture Biennale. The monument, which was said to have attracted about 250,000 visitors, was founded on the idea of the ‘FAR Game’ — with ‘FAR' being an acronym for Floor Area Ratio, which is thoroughly and inevitably considered in any architecture projects in Seoul due to the country's extremely dense urban setting. For an architect in Korea, the concept often comes down to convincing their clients that their designs will yield the largest rentable floor area in order to get a commission. This strenuous and limiting "game" played with models, drawings, photographs and videos will be explored in the exhibition, raising theoretical and practical issues on desire, regulation, aesthetics and creativity. On April 8th at 11am and on the 21st at 7pm, roundtable discussions at will take place at Space Feelux and Gallery 2 (call in advance to RSVP).

The best theater in Seoul

Hedwig: New Makeup
Theater

Hedwig: New Makeup

Based on the book by actor John Cameron Mitchell, the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, first produced in 1998, tells the story of genderqueer character Hedwig after undergoing a botched genital reconstruction operation. Set in the American South, the cast sings and dances to the music and lyrics of Stephen Trask. After becoming a record-breaking off-Broadway hit, the story of Hedwig was made even more famous in a movie adaption, directed and starred in by John Cameron Mitchell himself. The musical first came to Korea in 2005 and ran for nine seasons, putting on some 1,650 shows and boasting a loyal fan base. This year, following in the footsteps of the 2014 Broadway adaptation, the beloved musical is back bigger than ever in Korea as Hedwig: New Makeup. Like the Broadway adaptation, this version of Hedwig keeps the original storyline intact. And as the word “makeup” implies, the look of the musical has undergone a makeover. The most apparent difference is the size of the venue, as previously, the production was only performed in 400-seat theaters, and this time around the theater has doubled in size. This has some fans wondering if the intimate feeling so unique to this musical will be lost and others wondering what additions will be made to the set. The show will be staged on the set of a hypothetical musical called Junkyard, an additional keyboard will be added to the original four-person band and the music will include contributions from the rock band, YB. Though one

Actors turned directors
Theater

Actors turned directors

It’s not hard to find a familiar name on the back of a director’s chair these days: theatre and movie actors are turning to directing. Actors who can both lead and comprehensively interpret a work are broadening their scopes. Other actors turned directors who either have a play on stage or are planning to do so include Oh Man-seok, Hwang Jung-min, Yang Joon-mo and Park Hee-soon.   Oh Man-seok graduated from the Korea National University of Arts and majored in acting. He worked for different plays and musicals, and moved to TV and movies after he became a celebrity. He debuted as a director with the musical Happy Life (2008) and then directed The Harmonium in My Memory (2010−2011), Toxic Hero (2011) and True West (2015), in which he starred as well.   Hwang Jung-min, one of the most popular actors in Korea, both directed and starred in the musical Assassins in 2012. Since the musical was first put on stage in Korea back in 2005, its production company has changed three times, with generally unsatisfying results. However, in Hwang’s hands the original’s wit and black comedy came to life. Hwang will both direct and star in The Orchestra Pit, which will open at the end of this year. Interestingly, Hwang and Oh have been both ast in The Orchestra Pit as the conductor. Just like a director, an orchestra conductor needs to be a charismatic leader. The two actors’ interpretations of the character and their cooperation during the production will definitely influence the quality of

Q&A: Musical actress Choi Jung-won
Theater

Q&A: Musical actress Choi Jung-won

How do you feel about being part of Chicago for so long? Chicago is one of the few musicals that has memorable songs, dances and acting. Since each of those elements depends so much on the actor featured in it, there’s a lot of pressure but also very high reward. For me, personally, I think each season gets better and better.   This season, the same cast from last season has returned. How’s that been? We all watched the original Chicago cast when they came to Korea. The performance was amazing. So we really wanted to get back to work again. We had the feeling of, “This is it!” It was inspiring and we were motivated to work on improving in our roles.   During the first season, you played Roxie and now, you’re playing Velma. How was the switchover? I started as Roxie Hart (the lead) in 2000 and became Velma Kelly (a supporting role) in 2007. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed, because I thought, “I can still be Roxie, I could do it so much better if I got another chance.” But as time has passed, I’ve thought about how interesting it is that I’m now playing an actress whose limelight is stolen by Roxie. Being able to experience two different roles within a single musical is a rarity and I’m happy to have the opportunity to do so.   Being a part of Chicago for 15 years also means that you’re 15 years older. Is it hard to age as an actress? I’m not sad about it—as a woman, maybe a little bit, but not as an actress. I like my wrinkles as well. I can be Velma and

Members of idol bands now on stage 5
Theater

Members of idol bands now on stage 5

Arts & Culture columnist Ji Hye-won recommend

SEE MORE GREAT THEATER IN SEOUL

The best art museums and galleries in Seoul

Dongdaemun Design Plaza(DDP)
Museums

Dongdaemun Design Plaza(DDP)

Designed by world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid, DDP is a cultural playground that operates 24 hours. The futuristic landmark shines in silver during the day, as the exterior is fashioned out of aluminum panels. The building lights up in the dark and flickers its lights, just like a spaceship that transmits visual signals into space.

National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul
Museums

National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul

Built in 2013 as an annex building of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) Gwacheon main location, the Seoul branch is located on the historic site of the former Defense Security Command offices. In addition, the Joseon-era former Office for Royal Genealogy is a traditional building with wooden pillars and graceful tiled roofs, which looks a little out of place next to the museum's modern buildings made of red bricks and mortar. Wedged in between the old and contemporary architecture are scultpure parks, which are also utilized as outdoor exhibition spaces. The museum has eight exhibition halls in total as well as a video library, movie theater, and a food court, so if you have the energy, you can very likely spend the entire day at the musuem. But if you do get tired of looking at art for any reason, popular attractions Gyeongbokgung (Gyeongbok Palace), Bukchon Hanok Village, Samcheong-dong, and Insadong are all just around the corner.

Kukje Gallery
Art

Kukje Gallery

Before walking into the Kukje Gallery, look up: on the roof of the building is "Walking Woman on the Roof," a self-described installation piece by American artist Jonathan Borofsky. The gallery opened in 1982 and has a total of three exhibition halls, which in turn are each divided into smaller exhibition spaces with separators. Kukje Gallery came onto the arts radar in 2003, when video artist Bill Viola and Anish Kapoor each held solo shows here. The museum's core exhibitions highlight internationally acclaimed artists with contemporary art backgrounds.

Seoul Arts Center
Museums

Seoul Arts Center

The first national multi-complex cultural center set on the outskirts of Gangnam, Seoul Arts Center has an enduring history dating back to 1988. Comprised of a 2,533-seat concert hall, 600-seat chamber music hall, 2200 seat opera theater, and six exhibition halls, the venue is a strong supporter of both the musical and visual arts worlds alike. Keep in mind that younger audiences (ages 7–24) with a taste for orchestra can apply to win free and discounted tickets to rehearsals as well as last minute shows, so feel free to stop by without an occasion or a pre-purchased ticket in hand.

Arario Gallery Seoul
Art

Arario Gallery Seoul

Established by multimillionaire gallerist Kim Chang-il, Arario Gallery first opened its doors in Cheonan in 2012 before moving to its current place in Sogyeok-dong, Seoul. Making The ARTnews "200 Top Collectors" list for 7 years now, the internationally respected gallery boasts three-stories of exhibition space. At times, the basement and the upper levels are separated to showcase two exhibitions with unrelated curatorial goals. Although the gallery’s main interest lies in contemporary art, it branches off to support domestic as well as international artists in their early to mid-careers.

Daelim Museum
Museums

Daelim Museum

Situated in the residential neighborhood of Tongui-dong, Daelim Museum went under a major renovation under the direction of French architect Vincent Cornu. The exteriors of the buildings are reminiscent of works by Piet Mondrian, but in fact, the stained glass took inspiration from Korean traditional pottery. Initially the museum set its focus on photography, but now has a broader purview, housing various thematic exhibitions on multitudes of genres in just about all forms. Because Daelim Musuem holds two long-running exhibitions per year, you will theoretically have plenty of time, but don't leave it to the last minute—long lines are almost a guarantee on the weekends. The musuem's highlights in recent years include exhibtions on fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, publisher Gerhard Steidl, and photographer Ryan McGinley. As Daelim Museum is especially popular among the young generation, it is considered to be one of the most public-friendly museums in Seoul.

See more art galleries and museums in Seoul