Seoul is fast becoming a major hub for Asian contemporary art. Much like Tokyo, galleries in Seoul have a strong gallery culture of supporting local talents, which gives it a vibrant and exciting emerging art scene. Not just great in content, the galleries and museums in Seoul are equally beautiful on the outside, with many of them engaging award-winning architects to design their spaces. Korea is more than just kimchi, K-pop and Hallyu culture, and this guide is here to prove it!
Like most major cities in Asia, Seoul has an efficient and clean subway system so getting around should not be a problem. Although the Seoul Metro is the best way to get around and avoid traffic jams, you can also hail a cab or get an Uber very easily. Fares are affordable compared to Tokyo with the going rate being about KRW 1000 per kilometer travelled.
One of the biggest art fairs in Korea is the Korean International Art Fair, which happens around the September period. It is recommended that you go around this time if you’re looking to check out the art scene in Seoul, as most galleries will have a booth at the fair. Other good times to go are during the months with milder weather, which are from March to May and September to November. Winters in Seoul do get very cold with snowfall, so it is recommended to avoid the beginning and end year periods.
Seoul has a wide variety of places to stay, much like most major cities. You can find major hotel chains in the city, but also more interesting accommodation options - like staying in a traditional Korean wooden house, known as a ‘Hanok’ - on Airbnb. A cool boutique hotel in the neighbourhood of Gwanak-gu (Seocho-gu) is Karashy Boutique Hotel that features monochrome interiors.
Kukje Gallery's unique architecture by SO-IL
Image Courtesy of Kukje Gallery, Photo by Yong-Kwan Kim
Kukje Gallery (54 Samcheong-ro, Jongno-gu 03053) is one of the longest-running and most influential art galleries in Seoul. Represented artists include a roster of celebrated Korean and international names such as Alexander Calder, Anish Kapoor, Bill Viola, Ugo Rondinone, Haegue Yang, and Kimsooja. Kukje Gallery is also deeply committed to supporting the legacy of historical artistic practice, having launched internationally acclaimed group exhibitions on Dansaekhwa artists.
An installation view of 'How's the Weather Tomorrow?' by Wonwoo Lee at PKM Gallery
Image courtesy of PKM Gallery
PKM Gallery (40 Samcheong-ro 7-gil, Jongno-gu 03049) has a strong international presence achieved through a busy art fair schedule, as well as a roster of international and local heavyweights such as Olafur Eliasson, Carsten Holler, Lee Bul and Yun Hyong-Keun.
The façade of Gallery K.O.N.G
Image courtesy of Gallery K.O.N.G.
Founded by Grace K.H. Kong in 2005, Gallery K.O.N.G (38 Samcheong-ro 7-gil, Jongro-gu 03049) represents mainly an international group of contemporary artists, and is known for its focus on contemporary artists working in the medium of photography.
Image courtesy of Korean Tourism Organisation
Opened by president of Hyundai Hwarang, Ms. Park Myung-ja set up Gallery Hyundai (14 Samcheong-ro, Jongno-gu 110190) with the mission of promoting Korean modern art within the international arena. Many influential artists that have shaped the face of Korean modern art made their debuts through Gallery Hyundai. Such examples include Lee Ufan, Nam June Paik and Park Seobo. The gallery now showcases both Korean and international artists.
An installation view of 'In Sync' by YunKyung Jeong at Gallery Koo
Image courtesy of YunKyung Jeong and Gallery Koo
Situated in the prime district of Gangnam, Gallery Koo (211 Nature Poem, 461 Apgujeong-ro, Gangnam-gu 06011) seeks to showcase both emerging and established Korean artists. Artists on their roster include Hayoung Kim, JinHee Kim and SeungWon Park.
Lee Eugean Gallery is designed like a traditional Korean residence
Image courtesy of Lee Eugean Gallery
Designed like a traditional residential house, Lee Eugean Gallery’s (17 Apgujeong-ro 77-gil, Gangnam-gu 06011) entrance has a set of stairs leading to the entrance. Representing both Korean and international mid-career artists, Lee Eugean is a treasure trove of new discoveries!
Gallery Yeh designed by Jang Yoon-gyoo
Image courtesy of Archdaily
An icon in the prime district of Gangnam, Gallery Yeh’s (18, Apgujeong-ro 12-gil, Gangnam-gu 135888) extraordinary award-winning façade is a product of Korean architect Jang Yoon-gyoo. Established in 1978, the gallery has a central role in advocating for Korean artists on the international art platform, showing artists like Chonghak Kim, Sangho Shin, Insun Choi and Wonsook Kim, at international fairs.
Image courtesy of Leeahn Gallery
Leeahn Gallery (9 Jahamun-ro 12-gil, Jongno-gu 03043) was first established in Daegu, which is considered the birthplace of Dansaekhwa, a minimalistic Korean art movement. Leeahn Gallery shows exhibitions by Nam June Paik, Kang So Lee, Dong Youb Lee, and Tchunmo Nam, alongside other major international artists.
Gana Art is loacted on a hill
Image courtesy of Art Daily
Gana Art (Pyeongchang 30-gil, 28, Jongno-gu) was one of the first major art galleries established in Korea. Designed and built by French architect Jean- Michel Wilmotte, the gallery paints an arresting scene along the sloping hill it is situated on. Gana Art has played an important role in Seoul’s rapidly developing art scene.
Image courtesy of Akive
With outlets in Cheonan and Seoul, as well as Shanghai, Arario Gallery (84 Bukchon-ro 5-gil, Jongno-gu 03053) is a must-visit for anyone interested in contemporary art. Arario Gallery’s roster reads as a who’s-who of the Korean contemporary art world with names like Osang Gown, Choi Byungso and Park Youngsook, as well as artists like Subodh Gupta, Eko Nugroho, Geraldine Javier and Leslie de Chavez.
ONE AND J. Gallery
Image courtesy of ONE AND J. Gallery
ONE AND J. Gallery (31-14, Bukchon-ro, Jongro-gu 03055) is known for being one of the first galleries to dedicate its focus on young contemporary Korean artists. It features an interesting split level gallery that gives viewers a variety of vantage points to view the works from various perspectives.
Perrotin in Seoul
Image courtesy of Perrotin
One of the newest gallery spaces in the Perrotin family is their ”office showroom” in Seoul. The space (1F 5 Palpan-gil, Jongno-gu) includes a bookshop that will display the editions and books printed by the gallery, as well as a small exhibition space.
Image courtesy of Xperimentz
Originally known as Factory Arts & Crafts, Gallery Factory (Jahamun-ro 10-gil, 15, Jongno-gu 110-034) opened in 2002 as an exhibition space and art shop dedicated to the experimental work of up-and-coming artists based in Korea.
Image courtesy of Squarespace
Since its establishment in 1999, Artside Gallery (33 Tongui-dong, Jongro-gu 110040) has focused on showcasing Chinese avant-garde artists such as Yue Minjun and Zhang Xiaogang. Today, the gallery is dedicated to presenting works by some of the most significant Korean and international contemporary artists.
Image courtesy of Timeout
SongEun Art Space (Apgujeong-Ro 75 6-gil, Gangnam-gu 06011) is another cutting-edge non-profit space in the chic district of Gangnam. Showcasing both Korean and international contemporary artists, the gallery has previously worked with overseas collectors like François Pinault and Tom Tandio to showcase art from around the world.
Project Space SARUBIA
Image courtesy of My City Art Guides
A non-profit gallery, Project Space SARUBIA (B1, 4 Jahamun-ro 16-gil, Jongno-gu 03043) is dedicated to supporting experimental art in various areas of fine art, architecture, music, dance and film. SARUBIA devotes itself to pioneering new concepts and practices, and incubating the talents of undiscovered artists.
Leeum Samsung Museum of Art
Image courtesy of Leeum Samsung Museum of Art
The famous Leeum Samsung Museum of Art (60-16 Itaewon-ro 55-gil, Yongsan-gu 04348) is designed by celebrated architects Mario Botta, Jean Nouvel and Rem Koolhaas, perfectly capturing the collection’s own connection between past and present.
Buk Seoul Museum of Art by Samoo Architects & Engineers
Image courtesy of Archdaily
Located behind Deoksugung Palace is the Seoul Museum of Art (61 Deoksugung-gil, Jung-gu 04515) , also known as SeMA. The building of the Seosomun Annex is the former Supreme Courthouse of Korea. SeMA primarily showcases local Korean artists, but the museum also works with foreign museums for special exhibitions like the ‘Media City Seoul’ Biennale.
National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art
Image courtesy of Archdaily
The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (30 Samcheong-ro, Jongno-gu) in Seoul has been open since 1969. Costing US$230 million to construct, the building adopted the madang (yard) concept, which integrates the exterior and interior of the building to the surrounding environment, serving as an event and public leisure space.
Image courtesy of Horim Museum
Horim Museum (317 Dosandaero, Gangnam-gu 135897) is a privately-run art museum comprising of three buildings designed by Tehje Architecture Office. The museum specialises in antique and modern art.
"Out of the Box" by THE__SYSTEM LAB at Kumho Musuem
Image courtesy of Yongkwan Kim
Kumho Museum (18 Samcheong-ro, Jongno-gu) was initially built in 1989 by the Kumho Asiana Group and rebuilt in 1996 by Korean architect Kim Tae-Su. Kumho Museum is known for their support of young artists in Korea, often exhibiting new contemporary art. It is located near other institutions like the MMCA and National Folk Museum.
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