Seoul tour: a culture trip through the Korean capital

Seoul tour: a culture trip through the Korean capital

With new galleries, bustling bars, and soon, the inaugural edition of Frieze Seoul, all eyes are on the South Korean capital. Our ‘Postcard from Seoul’ guided tour explores the cultural must-sees of the moment

Seoul’s summer monsoon season brings with it a biblical rain that doesn’t shower but saturates. Each time the rain clears, a new Seoul is born; umbrellas become parasols and the muted urban vista makes way for a vibrant, old-meets-new vernacular, accentuated by a lush, mountainous backdrop.

In recent years, Seoul has undergone another sort of rebirth. After the international phenomena of K-pop, K-beauty, K-style and K-cinema, it now seems to be the moment for K-art, thanks to the rise of local players and the arrival of international cultural titans. Our arts editor, Harriet Lloyd-Smith, explores how, with new museums and galleries, bustling bars and restaurants, and soon, the inaugural edition of Frieze Seoul (2 – 5 September 2022), all eyes are on the South Korean capital. 

Postcard from Seoul: 8 arts and culture must-sees 

International galleries 

teamLab, Continuous Life and Death at the Now of Eternity II, 2019, Digital Work, 12 channels, Endless© teamLab, courtesy Pace Gallery

Joining acclaimed native galleries such as Hyundai and Kukje, a new wave of global blue-chips – including Thaddaeus Ropac, Lehmann Maupin and König – have flocked to Seoul for a piece of the action. Ahead of Frieze Seoul 2022, two major players have announced ambitious extensions. Pace Gallery will expand its multi-level arts complex with a new outdoor sculpture courtyard, while Perrotin will open a new space in the upmarket retail neighbourhood of Gangnam, joining its original outpost in the historic art district of Jongno. 

Frieze Seoul 

The inaugural edition of Frieze Seoul marks a major moment for Asia’s art scene. Held at Coex from 2 – 5 September 2022 and led by director Patrick Lee, Frieze’s fourth global location, and its first in Asia, will welcome more than 110 galleries and feature a special section, Focus Asia. This much-anticipated addition to the art world calendar takes place alongside KIAF (the Korea International Art Fair) and will place Korean art firmly on the international stage. 

Coex, 513 Yeongdong-daero, Gangnam-gu, 06164, Seoul
frieze.com

Seoul Museum of Craft Art: ‘Craft, Moving Beyond Time and Boundaries’

’Craft, Moving Beyond Time and Boundaries’ (until 15 August 2022) is an exhibition that explores how age-old traditions can collide with contemporary experimental approaches, taking place at the Seoul Museum of Craft Art, which opened in 2021 as the first institution of its kind in Korea. Korean craft also took the spotlight at the recent 2022 Loewe Foundation Craft Prize, exhibited at the museum in July, where seven of the 30 international finalists hailed from South Korea, including this year’s winner, horsehair weaver Dahye Jeong. 

Sanchon

All this cultural consumption demands sustenance, and a culinary gem lurking in a backstreet nook of the Insadong district promises to awaken tastebuds you didn’t know you had. Sanchon is an acclaimed vegan temple food restaurant established by a former Buddhist monk. The soul- and body-cleansing a la carte menu offers distinctive dishes involving kimchi, tofu, seaweed, japchae glass noodles and lotus fruit – the latter a punchy experience for the unseasoned palate. The food is accompanied by live piano music, live birds chirping, bounteous live greenery and an adjacent art gallery.  

2-1 Gwanhun-dong, Jongno-gu, Seoul

‘Meta-Horizons: the Future Now’

‘Meta-Horizons: the Future Now’ by Zaha Hadid Architects in collaboration with Refik Anadol at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza Design Museum, Seoul

The exhibition ’Meta-Horizons: The Future Now’ (until 18 September 2022) inaugurates the new Design Museum at the Zaha Hadid Architects-designed Dongdaemun Design Plaza, and explores ZHA’s work across digital technology, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and sustainable strategies. Created in collaboration with artist Refik Anadol Studio (who created the Seoul Light: Seoul Haemong multimedia public installation at DDP in 2019), the show is a captivating, multidisciplinary collision of virtual and physical worlds. 

Wellness K at Kukje Gallery

Kukje Gallery’s Wellness K. Photography: Chunho An. Image courtesy of Kukje Gallery.

With its unique union of world-class art, wellness, food and design, Kukje is part art gallery, part state-of-the-art lifestyle hub. Within the multi-use art complex’s K1 building (which secured a Wallpaper* Design Award in 2021) is Wellness K, an inventive fusion of fitness, mindfulness and aesthetics. Within a space designed by Teo Yang studio, the wellness centre offers members personalised programmes including strength and core training, yoga, dance, and meditation. What’s more invigorating than lifting weights within feet of a Julian Opie? 

Oul at the Four Seasons Seoul 

Cocktail hour at the Four Seasons Seoul has long been headlined by the ‘secret’ subterranean speakeasy that is Charles H. But above ground, the newly-opened Oul is shaking things up. The late-night bar concept, tailored to the Korean ‘Generation MZ’ (encompassing Millennials and Gen Z), offers contemporary takes on a long history of Korean liquor crafting and fermentation, such as a reimagined Gyeongseong-era sujeonggwa cinnamon punch, and a Kimchi Highball with a twist of green chilli soju. With its dynamic Obangsaek colour palette and neon signage, Oul is a new mixology hotspot for experimentally-minded night owls. 

SongEun Art & Cultural Foundation

Photography: Jihyun Jung

Seoul has long been a hub for projects by internationally acclaimed architects, from Mario Botta, Jean Nouvel and Rem Koolhaas (who each designed a wing of Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art) to Dominique Perrault, whose Ewha Womans University blends seamlessly into its hillside landscape. In late 2021, Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron made their South Korean debut with the SongEun Art & Cultural Foundation, an angular, monolithic 11-storey structure in the high-end Gangnam district. The building – which houses a non-profit cultural space championing Korean and international emerging art – has become something of a Seoul landmark, a feat in a city defined by such a dense urban tapestry. 

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