Today I have Asia blues, so here I am with yet another article on Seoul. I know it’s been a while since I visited the Asian city, but I keep thinking of its amazing art galleries and museums. So to keep me up to date with the latest trends and news from South Korea (which is apparently everyone’s favorite occupation these days), I am here to talk about galleries. And not just galleries in general, but all Korean galleries, that are becoming major actors on the international scene, through amazing exhibitions, great artists, and their participation in the most important international art fairs.
As you might remember from other articles, Seoul is one of the fastest-growing realities for contemporary art internationally. One of the biggest art hubs in Asia, Seoul has become a major spot for galleries and collectors over the past few years. It boasts an incredible number of private and public museums and local galleries, and a growing number of international players are choosing the city to establish new locations for their galleries franchise.
I loved the vitality of the cultural scene in Seoul, proof that what we see nowadays with the so-called Korean wave in all media is not just a temporary phenomenon or a fortuitous one, but it stems from a long tradition and a hard-working industry.
So, waiting for South Korea to reopen to international travelers, here are the 5 best Korean galleries to visit in Seoul for contemporary art. Located mostly in the same area, around the former imperial palace, Gyeongbokgung Palace, they can be easily visited in one day, walking along the beautiful palaces gardens. The perfect itinerary to pair with a visit to the MMCA or the many other contemporary art exhibition spaces around the same area.
First of my list, as it is one of the first few Korean galleries I stabled upon and one of my favorites, Kukje Gallery is a real pioneer in the Seoul contemporary art scene. The gallery opened its first space in the Korean capital in 1982, and since then, it has gained incredible international recognition. Its program is dedicated to promoting both international artists in Korea and Korean artists abroad. They do so with amazing exhibitions, participating in the biggest art fairs worldwide, and collaborating with top-quality museums and curators.
They currently have 3 different exhibition spaces in Seoul, plus a second location in Busan. You can easily visit all of them together, as they are all located in the same area, but be aware that the visit will take you some time. The artists they work with are some of the biggest around and their exhibitions are well-curated and usually pretty extensive. So reserve some time for the visit, and let yourself be transported by their exhibitions, it will be well worth the time.
54 Samcheong-ro, Sogyeok-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Info and opening hours: www.kukjegallery.com
Leeahn Gallery currently runs two spaces, in Seoul and Daegu. Originally established in 2007 in Daegu, Leeahn Gallery opened its second space in Seoul in 2013, soon becoming one of the city’s most active Korean contemporary art galleries.
Working with great Korean masters, such as Nam June Paik, Kang So Lee, Dong Youb Lee, and Tchun-Mo Nam, the gallery has had a key role in promoting Korean art both in their country as well as abroad, especially participating in the major art fairs in Asia and beyond.
Their Seoul space is conveniently located in the traditional and cultural district of Seochon, surrounded by other galleries and museums, which makes it very convenient for a full day of gallery hopping. They work mostly with well-established artists, so come here to discover the best Korean masters as well as the most prominent international artists.
Changseong-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Info and opening hours: leeahngallery.com
Don’t be fooled by the ancient-looking building, Hakgojae Gallery is one of the best destinations for contemporary art in Seoul and one of the best galleries I have visited in the city. It first opened its doors in 1988, and since then it has played a pivotal role in launching Korean art internationally.
As they state on their website “The gallery’s name derives from the saying, “to review the old to learn the new” in the Analects of Confucius. This is the very ideology and orientation that makes Hakgojae Gallery unique, bringing together the old and the new, and connecting the region to the world.”
As a result, Hakgojae Gallery has hosted over the years over 200 exhibitions, from art in the Late Korean Empire to the Korean precursors, Minjung art, and Korean masters of the XX century and beyond, becoming an “interchange station where the past and present intersect, East and West communicate, and regions of the world interconnect”, as they describe themselves.
Closer to a museum than a gallery, you should definitely visit Hakgojae Gallery for the art they showcase as well as for the incredibly beautiful palace where the gallery is hosted.
50 Samcheong-ro, Sogyeok-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Info and opening hours: www.hakgojae.com
Just a few steps away from Kukje Gallery and Hakgojae Gallery, and almost next to the Seoul branch of Perrotin Gallery, you can visit PKM Gallery. Opened in 2001, the gallery has been consistently presenting exhibitions of both Korean and international artists whose artworks keenly reflect contemporary art trends.
Working with both younger and more established artists, the gallery is yet another place where you can discover at the same time the best Korean artists or see some of your favorite international masters. Being an incubator for emerging young artists, the gallery promotes Korean art internationally and is one of the major actors on the international market. The current location in Samcheong-dong was opened on the occasion of their 14th anniversary and has 4 floors of jaw-dropping exhibition space, making it one of the biggest galleries in Seoul, and definitely one you don’t want to miss.
40 Samcheong-ro 7-gil, Samcheong-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Info and opening hours: www.pkmgallery.com
Last but most definitely not least, Arario Gallery is located in an amazing position just between the MMCA main branch and Kukje Gallery and Hakgojae Gallery.
It was originally opened in 1989, making it another pioneer of the Korean art scene, and over the past 30 years, it has become one of the leading institutions for the discovery and promotion of Asian artists in the international arena. Working with all sorts of media, from paintings and sculptures to film and installation, Arario represents an exciting roster of artists from the 1970s to the contemporaries, as well as underrepresented young artists from Asia.
The Seoul branch opened in 2014, in a minimal building, the quintessential contemporary art gallery. Nowadays they have a second location, ARARIO GALLERY SEOUL RYSE HOTEL, but I would suggest visiting the Samcheong-dong space as it is definitely the most impressive and most conveniently located.
84 Bukchon-ro 5-gil, Samcheong-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Info and opening hours: www.arariogallery.com