National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art

Today, in stark contrast to our last destination, we explored the modern art scene in Korea by visiting the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (국립현대미술관) in Gwacheon. It was actually the most fun I’ve had exploring a space so far, as all the exhibits were quirky and …well, thought-provoking, to say the least! 


We started from the bottom. Literally. We had to walk up a hill to get to the actual museum building (can you see the building peaking through the trees in the picture above?). It was interesting because the museum was deep within this enclosed forest-like area, sharing space with an amusement park and various other attractions. Because we went pretty late in the day, there were few people around so the whole experience was like entering deep into some sort of wonderland.

The museum’s outside grounds boasted lush greenery as well as a sculpture garden, so we started our trip on a high note looking at all the eccentric forms.

The view of the museum building itself (above) // Two of my favorite sculptures (below)

Once inside the museum, we were greeted by a flashy, eye-catching installation called “The More, The Better”. It was produced in celebration of the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul and “resembles a unique Korean pagoda shape with 1,003 TV monitors installed on a monumental skeleton” that is 18.5 m tall and 7.5 m wide. “This number (1003) represents the Third of October, the National Foundation Day of Korea. While manifesting the artistic and technical excellence of the Korean people, this work embodies the artist’s sincere hope for national prosperity”.

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“The More, The Better,” Paik Namjune, 1988

It was neat that the theme of tradition and modernity appeared in places I wasn’t even looking in. Each TV screen was continuously blinking, almost like it was reflective of our constantly “on” society. I think this installation, even after all these years, represents just how much our culture is steeped in technology and yet has so much history behind it, just like this piece.

DSCN1636_FotorThe one thing that was a bit underwhelming was that many of the halls were under “construction” aka still under prep. There was still enough to see, and the right amount before we got tired, but the closed exhibits made the museum seem a bit unfinished. For instance, this main hall (above) seemed mostly unused and unexplained.

We did, however, get to explore the several halls that were open. One was called the “Coexistence of Memory: Archive Project” and was a ‘circle’ exhibit that chronicled the history of the museum, from its conception to past exhibits. (Notice how in the picture below, the wall curves in sort of an arc; the actual space was a circular path you would walk through.)

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Some background from the museum, about the museum: “On October 20, 1969, the MMCA was opened. It borrowed a building in Gyeongbokgung Palace which used to be the Museum for the Japanese Government General in Joseon and had only four employees including the curator… When the MMCA was finally moved to a new building in Gwacheon on August 25, 1986, the art museum was six times greater in scale and hired about 100 employees… It has hosted about 600 exhibitions for the last 30 years and secured about 7,800 pieces in the collection as of 2016”.

Below are just some of the pieces out of the thousands they have that were on display and caught my eye:

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Kim Seung Young
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“Talon” Jung Byung Guk | 2011, Acrylic on canvas
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“Meditation on Chairs” Hwang Julie | 2012-2014, Wooden chair
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“The Thinker” Cody Choi | 1996, Toilet Paper, Pepto-Bismol, Wood
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“A Hermit” 2016 | Lee Sang Hyun, Ink on korean paper and scroll
“In the Clouds of Mt. Three Gods” Lee Sang Hyun | 2016, Neon
He Left
“Opened His Door, He Left” Kim Seungyoung | 2016, Mixed Media

Here is a video capturing some of the exhibitions:

Music: until next time by unexotic on Soundcloud

Overall, the visit to the MMCA was a pleasant experience and it was refreshing to see that Korea stays pertinent on the art scene of today as well. I didn’t understand every piece I saw but that’s the beauty of modern art, it seems– the freedom of expression and true creativity. I definitely went away feeling inspired.



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