Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Destination: National Museum of Contemporary Art (Seoul Grand Park)
Titled "The Thinker" by Lee Choon Man (1988)
The National Museum of Contemporary Art is exactly as described / marketed: an excellent museum with enough art to keep you busy for a full afternoon. Since it's the only museum of contemporary art in the country, it shouldn't get confused with any other places.
First opened inside Gyeonbokgung (one of the biggest palaces in Seoul) in 1969, the museum's collected moved to Deoksugung (the palace across the street from City Hall) in 1973, and eventually to its current home inside Seoul Grand Park in 1986. Don't confuse this museum with the National Museum of Art, which is still located inside Deoksugung today. This one's cooler.
Before even making it into the museum, you'll have some time to appreciate the sculptures outside. This one is titled 'Entering the Mountain III' by Ryu, In, from 1987.
I'm not sure what the deal was with this guy. His mouth opened and closed, and it sounded like a odd moaning sound when it did.
Titled 'Pure Form' by Kang Kwan Wook (2005), it looks much like a raised map indicating mountains and valleys.
Didn't see any indication of the title / artist / date on this one - but it was one of my favorites for its playful looking character.
Once inside the museum, pick up a ticket (free), then hand to another person 10 meters away (is this part of Korea's efforts to keep unemployment low? Heh.) and enter into the more impressive half of the museum.
The very first thing that strikes you is an almost dizzying array of colors and shapes, coming from a tower of TV's. Measuring 18.5 meters high and 7.5 meters in diameter, the piece by Paik Nam June contains 1,003 screens, projecting everything from seconds of movies to more psychadelic looking shapes and colors. Although originally installed in 1988, it still mesmerizes today. Important: do not stare at these screens for too long!
Titled "Scott Joplin as the First Digital Composer" by Paik Nam June (1995), located on the floor near the base of the TV tower. In any other museum, a neon-lit piano with psychadelic video screens installed inside would be extraordinary - here, it's almost missed considering everything else around you.
According to the booklet, the spiral staircase winds it's way up to reach of the three floors of the museum. Along the spiral's walls are typically the more experimental or contemporary pieces - the art currently installed is Ik-Joong Kang's 'Samramansang'. Containing "around 60,000" 3x3 inch-shaped pieces of art and a number of other pieces of art from other genres (object art and interactive media art, to name a few), it seems a fine complement to the visual overload of the spiral gallery.
A look down at the tower of TV's - some patterns became obvious after a few minutes of watching - which is about as much as my eyes could take!
The other half of the museum seemed almost sleepy by comparison. Several galleries (and no pictures allowed in them) offered a comprehensive look at contemporary Korean art. Most galleries offered a brochure for the specific gallery, with pictures and some decent English explanations. The variety was quite nice - a little bit of everything is here, from sculptures to modern art - and obviously entirely created by Koreans.
Another gallery, seperated from the rest. was the Children's Museum. Several Koreans were taking photos and the staff didn't seem to discourage it, so off I went:
Unfortunately none of these pieces had titles in English...
Some of the art in the 'Children's Gallery' was a bit odd, but certainly safe for kids while being interesting to the adults as well.
Eventually all good things come to an end - after a full afternoon it was time to go. The way out offered a different part of the sculpture garden:
One oddity: A number of Vincent Van Gogh souvenirs for sale, albeit in a museum that only displays Korean modern art.
If you like art, it's worth a visit. Make it part of a full-day tour of Seoul Grand Park, which by itself requires more than one visit to fully explore.
Directions to the National Musem of Contempoprary Art: Take line 4 of the Seoul subway system to the Seoul Grand Park station. Take exit 2 to street level, then walk straight towards Seoul Grand Park. The big building in front of you hides a tram on the other side - buy a one-way ticket for 800 won or take about 10 minutes to walk up the hill (follow the tram route). Open 10am-6pm from March - October, and until 9pm on Saturdays and Sundays; from November - February, things close an hour earlier; closed every Monday.