Cultural Hot Spots — May 25, 2010 7:10 am

Culture in Seoul’s Hollywood Hills

Art and Architecture Meet in the Galleries of Pyeongchang-dong

Written by Robert Koehler

Lion made from tire rubber, courtyard of Gana Art Center. Photo by Robert Koehler.

Tucked away on the steep northwestern slopes of Mt. Bugaksan, Pyeongchang-dong is, in terms of atmosphere, a world away from the urban sprawl of downtown Seoul. One of the city’s most affluent districts, it is a neighborhood of forested hillsides, luxurious low-rise homes, and great tranquility, all under the loving embrace of Bukhansan National Park, whose granite peaks provide a scenic backdrop. With its great vistas, it is somewhat akin to a Korean version of the Hollywood Hills.

Hidden within this haven of peace and scenic beauty is one of Seoul’s—nay, Korea’s—finest collections of art museums and galleries. Including such iconic culture spaces as the Gana Art Center, Seoul Auction, Total Museum of Contemporary Art, Gallery Sejul and Kim Chong Yung Museum, Pyeongchang-dong’s gallery cluster encompasses a full range of the creative arts, from painting and photography to media arts and sculpture. As many of the gallery buildings are themselves architecturally significant, the gallery-goer is treated to an inspiring display of “art within art,” making the neighborhood a pilgrimage site for any self-respecting Korean art aficionado.

Installation, Gana Art Center. Photo by Robert Koehler.

Gana Art Center and Seoul Auction

The landmark Gana Art Center and Seoul Auction—both owned by the Gana art empire—put Pyeongchang-dong on the cultural map. Gana came to Pyeongchang in 1998, commissioning renowned French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte to build a massive gallery and auction house, the latter Korea’s oldest and largest such house. Like many of the galleries and homes here, the structures blend seamlessly with the natural surroundings, and would be included on anyone’s list of Seoul’s modern architectural gems.

Gana Art Center has some 3,000 square meters of floor space and is comprised of three exhibit spaces. It also has a restaurant, gift shop and outdoor stage.

Seoul Auction, true to its name, holds regular auctions of art (see its homepage,, for more details). Atop Seoul Auction is Café Motte, a terrace café/restaurant/bar with views to die for (see p. 72—73).

Tel. (02) 720-1020
Hours: Tue—Sun, 10am—7pm. Closed Monday.
Admission: 5,000 won

Interior of Total Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo by Robert Koehler.

Total Museum of Contemporary Art

A neighbor of the Gana Art Center, Total Museum of Contemporary Art is, in fact, the oldest of the Pyeongchang-dong Galleries. A multi-level art space built into the hillside (indeed, it feels very much like a cave), it is another fine example of art-meets-architecture. Construction is currently under way, but that hasn’t stopped it from hosting exhibits in a number of media, including painting, video art and installation art. Like many of the other galleries up here, it takes advantage of its great views with a café and outdoor terrace and yard space.

Tel. (02) 379-3994
Hours: Tue—Sun, 11am—6pm
Admission: 3,000 won (although it can vary). Closed Monday.

Untitled by Choi Jong-tae, next to Gana Art Center. Photo by Robert Koehler

Gallery Sejul

Occupying a topographically higher location than the other galleries, the fine art exhibition hall Gallery Sejul provides stunning views of the neighborhood below from its upper floor. Gallery Sejul isn’t particularly big, but it is dedicated to discovering younger talent and promoting international art exchanges.

Tel. (02) 391-9171
Hours: Mon—Sat, 10am—7pm. Closed Sunday.

Work by Jeong Jae-ho, Total Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo by Robert Koehler

Kim Chong Yung Museum

Dedicated to the work of Kim Chong Yung (1915—1982), the grandfather of Korean modern sculpture, this museum epitomizes the harmonization of space and nature, with contours that follow the hillsides. Kim has left behind a rich body of work, including both monumental statues and more pioneering works.

Tel. (02) 3217-6484
Hours: Tue—Sun, 10am—6pm. Closed Monday.
Admission: Free

Take Bus No. 1020 from Exit 3 of Gyeongbokgung Station, Line 3, and get off at the Olympia Hotel. From there, it’s a 10 minute walk to Gana Art Center/Seoul Auction. There are several galleries clustered in this area; see the map for locations.

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