Sights in Seoul: The Leeum Samsung Museum

For those of you who were wondering what my Giant Spider Silent Sunday photo was about a zillion  a few weeks ago, I am finally here to provide the answer, and, no, it was not a photograph from a recent trip to the zoo (aren't you relieved?)
Warning:  I've heard that these sculptures are no longer on display and can't find any reference to them on the website, so it's possible the exhibit has moved on.

The above photo comes to you via the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, which is where MrLogical and I spent a few (alright, more than a few) Wednesdays ago (Korean Liberation Day) when we had the day off and it was raining too hard to do anything outside we decided it was high time to get another culture fix.  These particular sculptures outside the museum by Louise Bourgeois, are entitled 'Maman.'  I have never thought of the spider as a particularly maternal insect (yes, I know they're arachnids, but let's not split hairs, shall we?), but one presumes that Ms Bourgeois had her reasons.  In any case, it was, hands down, my favorite sculpture of the day, which may or may not say something about my parenting and/or my taste in art.

The Leeum is actually a bit of a hidden gem: not particularly large, it sits quietly at the end of a side street in Hanam-Dong, its giant metal spider sculptures and starkly modern architecture the only clues as to what lies inside - and what lies inside is really pretty breathtaking.  The museum's collection includes works by Warhol and Rothko as well as a number of other artists from Korea and many other countries.

It was pouring rain the day we went (a bit of a preview of the next week or so of typhoons we would get) and we were soaked by the time we walked the short distance from the subway station to the museum (they do have a parking garage, but the lot was already full by the time we got there a mere 1/2 hour after the museum opened - be warned.)  In typical efficient Korean fashion, though, there was a nifty umbrella stand at the front entrance to the museum, where you could lock up your umbrella, thereby avoiding dragging it, dripping, from gallery to gallery.

Main Lobby of the Museum

The entrance leads to a large, spacious lobby that contains a cafe' and gift shop as well as entrances to the three galleries:  Museum 1 and Museum 2 (permanent exhibits), and the Samsung Child Education and Cultural Center, which is also the area where the temporary exhibits are housed.  We bought a combined (discounted) ticket to all three exhibits, but you may buy a ticket to any one of the three exhibits - there is a ticket-taker at each of the exhibit entrances, and you'll have to show your ticket at each entrance.

Note:  taking photos is not allowed in any of the exhibits, although you are permitted to photograph the entrance area, gift shop, and the rest of the building.  It's worth noting that the building itself is a work of art, both inside and out.
Entrance to the Samsung Child Education and Cultural Center

We started in the Samsung Cultural Center, which typically houses temporary exhibits, and which, when we were there, was featuring a number of pieces of video art, including our personal favorite:  a series of  four wall-mounted video screens, simultaneously showing a man doing the Sun Salute in four vastly different settings, including the middle of  a rice paddy.  In one, he was in a littered side street in what looked like downtown Seoul, early in the morning when the only other people out were street cleaners and the drunks who were heading home after a hard night of soju-drinking and noraebang (karaoke).  Considering the fact that he was barefoot, wearing a black business suit, and doing yoga in the middle of a street while being filmed at 5 or 6 am in downtown Seoul, he got relatively few stares.

The main temporary exhibit  - which was what originally caught my attention - was displayed in the Black Box theater:   a Media Art piece by Pippilotti Rist, which was entitled Spear to Heaven.  Basically, it consisted of a darkened room full of hanging translucent sheets of fabric, upon which were superimposed a variety of video images, including one really beguiling sheep in a supersaturated green meadow (my personal favorite.)  The images shone onto - and through - the fabric sheets, which you wandered among in the darkened room to the accompaniment of a slightly otherworldly soundtrack and the hushed silence of the viewers.  Occasionally, you'd find yourself looking at your own shadowed silhouette superimposed onto a transparent image, which - as we later understood - was the point of the whole thing.  While MrL and I don't quite sink to the level of having a tapestry of poker-playing dogs on our living room wall, neither are we exactly on the cutting edge when it comes to art appreciation.  Coming from the generation that we do, walking around a darkened room with the swaying fabric, eerie background sounds, and odd video images only made us speculate on the fact that anyone under the influence of a hallucinogenic substance would probably get his or her money's worth in that exhibit.  That being said, it was still An Experience, and I'm sure we were the better for it.
Entrance to Museum 2- Modern Art

Having absorbed  Ms. Rist's work to the best of our ability, we headed back to the main lobby, where we entered the second Gallery ("Museum 2") which houses a permanent collection of modern works, that include a number of well-known artists in a variety of media.  This collection - our favorite - included sculpture, photography, and video pieces as well as more conventional paintings.  The architecture of this part of the gallery is beautifully designed to set off the work, and huge windows strategically placed throughout frame exterior views of the building and its grounds (including those fabulous spiders) as pieces of art in their own right.  We spent the longest time in this gallery, and absolutely fell in love with the photography of Korean artist Bien-U Bae, whose haunting Pine Tree Seriescaptivated us both.

The third gallery ("Museum 1") contained traditional Korean art, running the gamut from breathtakingly old and fragile celadon ceramic pieces to ceremonial Buddhist statues, to works of traditional calligraphy and art.  The museum owns a number of 'treasures' - works designated by the Korean government as historically, artistically, or culturally signficant to the people and culture of Korea - which are accordingly marked.  Especially nice for non-Koreans are the English-language descriptions of the pieces, which were very helpful to us.  The Buddhist art - statues, pagodas, incense burners - was especially fascinating to us as Westerners, as was much of the painting and calligraphy, which included black-and-white manuscripts, sketches, and drawings as well as maps and watercolors.  This gallery was - as were all of them - on three floors; in this one, you started on the 3rd floor, and worked your way down via a circular stairwell which was as much a part of the art as anything in any of the galleries:

All of the exhibits eventually lead you back to the main lobby, where there is a cafe':

and, of course, a gift shop:

MrL and I drooled for a bit over a coffee-table book collection of Bien U-Bae's photographs, but eventually decided that we'd rather put the money toward buying some of his prints.  Thus, we left, empty-handed but very happy that we'd found this museum - practically on our back doorstep.

The Leeum Samsung Museum of Art is located in Hanam-dong, across the street and a few blocks west and north of the Hangangjin subway station and Yongsan International School of Seoul (YISS.)  It is approximately a 10-minute walk from the subway station, and is well-marked by signs in both English and Korean.  Parking is very limited, so public transport is recommended.  More information is provided at the link above.  


Hello Ms. Caroline! Firstly...thanks for stopping by this morning...much appreciated and secondly...we seem to be sharing rainy skies and it appears the Massachusetts shoreline. I saw from your earlier posts that you were out Boston way recently. The photo of you both sitting in rocking chairs snoozing looked very familiar. :)

Love your museum watches, you are making the most of it all which I am finding one of the essential ingredients to success with an expat move.

Wishing you a happy day by way of the South China Sea... :)

Jeanne x
Trish said…
As a family we have always found something to enjoy in modern art galleries, even if we don't quite understand many of the pieces or installations! You're right, the buildings themselves are usually works of art. I would have loved to spend some time out of the rain here too.
Karen said…
I want to move to Seoul just to visit this museum! And I am also one who is not exactly on the cutting edge of art appreciation, so that is saying a lot. After all, I am the one who dragged herself to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston with hubby and 3 kids in tow, only because it was free that day. I wasn't sure I wanted to spend my day looking at pictures on the wall with 3 restless kiddies. We were, as you may know if you've ever been, pleasantly surprised, and all of us had to drag ourselves out that day. The kids particularly enjoyed the ancient artifacts from Rome, Greece and Asia. This place looks and sounds so incredible that I wish I was there. Well...maybe not today; today I am going the opposite route, off to see the Patriots play at Gillette Stadium!! A beautiful, sunny early Fall day here.
MsCaroline said…
Jeanne - You are most welcome - I enjoy reading both your Vietnam and your 'collage' blogs, and look forward to seeing your posts pop up in my Reader!
I was, indeed, in Boston this summer, as well as 'up the Cape,' but the rocking chair photo was actually taken in North Carolina - we covered quite a bit of ground during the month of July!
We've had a lovely Fall day here in Seoul, but are now bracing for a day or two of nasty weather as Typhoon Sanba heads to town. Looking for more sunshine by the end of the week...
MsCaroline said…
Trish - Yes, I may not understand exactly what the artist meant in terms of line or texture or subtle gradients of colo(u)r, but I know when a piece of art makes me wish that I could take it home and enjoy it forever. There were quite a few pieces like that (the photos I mentioned - I could have stood there forever, letting them wash over me), especially in the contemporary section. Of course, there were a couple that made us say, "huh?" but I suppose that's the beauty of art - different things appeal to different people. We enjoyed what we enjoyed, and for some of the others, well, we gave each other that "married-people-who-don't-need-words-to-know-what-the-other-is-thinking-and-we'll-have-a-good-laugh-over-this-one-later-on" look. Lots of fun.
MsCaroline said…
Karen - it is a wonderful little gem, and we may end up getting a membership, but not right now. I love MoFA - in fact, got their catalogues for years and years even when I'd been gone from NE for ages! I couldn't agree with you more about the artifacts, either - that stuff is cool no matter how old you are! Enjoy your ball game - we were having fabulous weather until this typhoon rolled in, but it should be gone in a couple of days, and I'll be able to wallow in comfortable temperatures again!
BavarianSojourn said…
That looks like an amazing gallery! I am a sucker for modern art, and sculpture, and I quite like spiders too, so if I do ever accompany Mr R. on one of his S.Korea business trips, he can park me there for a day! :)
MsCaroline said…
Emma, you would absolutely love it!
Anonymous said…
Sadly, the Maman sculpture is gone. We visited yesterday and they had just taken it done a couple of days ago! We were dismayed, as we made the journey to the museum specifically to see it!
MsCaroline said…
So sorry to hear that - it is still listed as an exhibit on their website! I wonder if it was moved due to the expected typhoon?
In addition to the art, I enjoy seeing what museums look like in other parts of the world. Can't say I love those spider sculptures although they'd be great for a zombie movie scene 'Attack of the Zombie Spiders'!
Anonymous said…
The spider has been sold. It will feature at the new Hauser & wirth Gallery to open in July 2014 at Bruton Somerset, England

See the link below for more information and apicture of how the spider will look in its new location.

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