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Seoul art museums and galleries

Insight into various galleries in Seoul to visit including MMCA Seoul and small galleries in Bukchon

By Hye Won Kim

National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul

Museums Art and design Jongno-gu

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.

National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Deoksugung

Museums Art and design Jung-gu

This annex of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) opened its doors in 1998. As the name suggests, the museum is located in Deoksugung, a national palace from the Joseon dynasty. Wandering through the palace, you'll eventually run into an architectural element that seems very out of place on the traditional grounds—which means you've arrived at the musuem. Formerly known as Seokjojeon Hall, this building with grandiose Grecian colonnades has four exhibition spaces that feature traveling exhibitions, as well as exhibitions created out of from their permanent collection. To get to the museum, a stroll along the Deoksugung Stone-Wall Road is mandatory. An old saying has it that couples who walk this picturesque stone road together will eventually end up parting ways in heartbreak, but most people simply shrug and walk in twos. In fact, it's one of the most popular dating spots in Seoul—so we say go ahead and give it a go. (But don't blame us if all goes wrong.)


Arario Museum in Space

Art Galleries Jongno-gu

Taking an office building constructed by architect Kim Swoo-geun in 1971, the space went under a transformation in 2014 to become the Contemporary Art Museum that it is today. As it was built by such respected architect, the original structure was left almost untouched—the building itself was preserved and treated as a piece of art. Although the building did take on an extension in 1977, it has low ceilings, narrow staircases, and windows of all shapes and sizes, as it was modeled after traditional building conventions. Inside the maze-like lair lies the well curated collection owned by domestic artist "Ci Kim" or Kim Chang-il, one of Seoul's most well-known art collectors. As the gallery is also equipped with a bakery, café, and restaurant completely incased in glass, you'll find plenty to occupy yourself with at Arario in Space, even if you are not very fond of fine art.

Daelim Museum

Museums Art and design Jongno-gu

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.


Kukje Gallery

Art Galleries Jongno-gu

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.

Arario Gallery Seoul

Art Galleries Jongno-gu

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.


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