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Legendary footsteps to follow

Seoul locales that celebrate the lives of artists past

Whanki Museum

Dedicated to first-generation Korean modern artist Kim Whan-ki (pen name Soohwa), this museum is made up of three parts: the main building, the annex and a room named Soohyangsan. Opened in 1992, the museum not only exhibits Whan-ki’s art but also his love for his beloved wife, Kim Hyang-an, who played a critical role in helping him achieve his goals. An essayist and art critic herself, she actualized the making of this museum after he passed away in 1974 and her words: “My soul will look after the art museum with his soul” hang over the entrance of Soohyangsan. Within the museum, you’ll find a variety of his works, such as oil paintings, watercolors and sketches as well personal keepsakes and letters.
 
Currently, the museum is featuring an exhibition called The Man is Gone and the Art has Remained. It features over 400 pieces, including his major works, sketches and collages that date from the early 1950s to the late 1970s. Throughout the exhibition, you can find excerpts from Whan-ki’s diaries that help you get inside his mind. The title of this exhibition takes its name from the eponymous 1989 memoir written by Hyang-an. (This exhibition also commemorates the anniversary of her birth.) Often overlooked and underrated, the Whanki Museum is a hidden gem for those looking to explore the personal and artistic history of an important artist.

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Buam-dong

Yun Dong-ju Literature House

The Korean movie Dongju: The Portrait of a Poet released this past February, and a book of poetry called Sky, Wind, Star, and Poem both recall the poet Yun Dong-ju, who died at the young age of 28 in 1945. While living in Jongno and aspiring to be a poet, he often frequented Inwang Mountain, which is where the Yun Dongju Literature House now stands in his honor. Previously a pressurization facility, architect Lee So-jin designed the now-sleek modern building in 2012 to high acclaim. The building has three different parts: the house itself and two former outdoor water tanks called the Open Well and the Closed Well. While the Open Well is a roofless, bright space, the Closed Well is a dark, closed space meant to capture the poet’s days whilst imprisoned in Fukuoka. Within the exhibition hall, the poet’s handwritten manuscripts and photographs are displayed in chronological order. There’s something poetic about every part of the Yun Dong-ju Literature House, making it a must-see for lovers of the past.

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The House of Yi Sang

Yi Sang, who passed away at the tender age of 27 in 1937, lived at this location with his uncle, who adopted him for most of his life. Though Yi Sang was a trained architect who worked for the Japanese government during colonization, he later became a writer and poet who expressed very critical views about Japan. Although the original house was destroyed, a hanok built there in its stead stands in honor of him. Highlights from visiting the home include a beautiful iron cast door at the back of the house and a small staircase that leads to a room called the Room of Yi Sang. Once there, you can help yourself to some instant coffee or browse through a collection of his works.

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Nam June Paik Art Center

Proclaimed by the legend himself as “the house where the spirit of Nam June Paik lives on,” this space was opened to the public in 2007. A known pioneer of media art and, perhaps, the biggest name to come out of Korean art, 67 collections of the artist’s work are on display here. Both experts and those unfamiliar with the artist can derive joy from viewing some of his more famous works, such as Video Fish (a television that loops a recording of a fish in a fish bowl) and Garden (a television that flips from one channel showing gardens to another). On the second floor of the art center, there is an exhibition of 11 media artists who have reinterpreted Nam Jun Paik’s artwork. Since this year marks the 10th anniversary of his passing, now would be an especially meaningful time to visit the art center.

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Kim Su-young Museum

Between the apartment complexes of Dobonggu, you’ll find this museum that celebrates the writing of the late, great poet Kim Su-young. In the first exhibition hall on the first floor, you’ll find the poetry that he wrote while experiencing major historical turning points, such as the April Revolution and the May 16 Coup. For bibliophiles wanting to enjoy some quiet time, there is also a space to read his works, such as the Complete Collection of Kim Su-young. Though the view of apartments from the rooftop on the fifth floor leaves you wanting more, the scenery from the window behind the reading desks on the second floor is quite picturesque.

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The Art Museum of Park No-Su

This neat little two-story house built with red bricks is the house where Korean painter Park No-su (pen name Namjung) lived from 1973 to 2011. Much of the house has been well preserved and visitors must still remove their shoes before entering. His works are displayed throughout and his living room, bedroom and reception room remain intact. Dating back to 1937, this house, which was built by then-famous architect, Park Gil-ryong, combines both Western and Japanese architecture. Currently the No. 1 cultural property of Seoul, every detail of the house itself is fascinating. Climb up the creaking wooden stairs and you’ll find a bathroom, a study and an attic on the second floor. From a seat in the attic, you can catch a glimpse of the surrounding green hills and be inspired to take on an artistic pursuit of your own.

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