London Korean Links

Covering things Korean in London and beyond since 2006

The LKL Korea Trip 2009 pt 3: 20th century art and history

Friday 17 July

Today I elect to revisit the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Gwacheon (국립 현대 미술관). Very easy to get to: Seoul Grand Park subway stop on Line 4. Get out at exit 4 and get the free shuttle bus which leaves every 20 minutes. There’s a great Manhwa exhibition on at the moment – an expanded version of the show that was at the KCC earlier this year – plus two other special exhibitions: Korea diaspora artists in Asia and a solo show by the museum’s artist of the year, Suh Yong-sun.


Highlight of the manhwa exhibition is some of the original watercolours of the Korean War by Gobau which were recently doing the rounds courtesy of Andrew Salmon, together a pair of rather fine and detailed cartoons by the same artist. In addition, there was a series of paintings and sculptures inspired by the favourite animation of the 1980s, Robot Taekwon V. One of the sculptures greeted you from the roof as you approached the main entrance:

Kim Seok's Robot Taekwon V
Kim Seok's Robot Taekwon V

All three shows take up too much of my time, and as a result I’m rather rushed to see the permanent displays. Disappointed that there never seems to be any minjung art on display, I buy myself a catalogue of the Suh Yong-sun show (sadly there aren’t any catalogues for the diaspora show, and the only Manhwa catalogue is in Korean) and a nice hangeul tie before heading off for my appointment at the National War Memorial.

Samgakji station is a bit more complicated than I thought. And it’s hot and humid weather. So I arrive 10 minutes late for my 14:00 appointment, perspiring rather more than gently. Lt Col Lee senses my predicament, and offers me a quick breathing space with full-on fans, some cold water and refreshing moist towels before ushering me in to the inner sanctum. He even says that I can take my jacket off. (I thought that as I was visiting a bit of a legend, I should wear a jacket and tie for the occasion – hence my rather overheated state).

With Gen Paik

General Paik Sun Yup was seated serenely in his office, in the chair in which he customarily receives his visitors. Lt Col Lee had advised me that some of my questions (which he had asked me to send in advance) were probably off-topic, which added to my sense of general flusteredness: that, together with the fact that I’d really only been expecting a stroll round the Memorial with the illustrious General, rather than a formal interview. I think I just survived the ordeal, though, and on the way out I was shown how to get in to the main exhibition hall without paying. It’s an interesting display, and worth a visit.

Rather stressed by my poor performance in the interview, I didn’t have the energy for my planned visit to the National Museum in Yongsan which I had pencilled in for the late afternoon. Instead, I headed back to Insadong by tube, where I rest before meeting up with Mr Park (formerly of the ROK Embassy in London, now back in Seoul) for dinner. I figure out how to reclaim the 500 Won deposit on the single-use Seoul Oyster cards, and am now 2,000 Won richer. Rather too much dongdongju later (really rather good milky rice liquor) and some nice soy-sauce marinated raw crab together with dwenjang jjigae in Chon – a good restaurant off Insadong – and I was ready for bed.


Index of the 2009 Travel Diary:

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