Myeongdong, Seoul, Sunday 8 May 2011. Whenever I travel to Korea I try to visit the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art main building in Gwacheon. This time there was an exhibition of recent additions to the permanent collection – including an imposing set of video works by Kimsooja – and a special retrospective exhibition of the works of Kim Chong-hak. In the main hall as we browsed round a string quartet was playing Brahms’s opus 51, adding to the sense of spaciousness and relaxation for the Sunday visitors.
The Kim Chong-hak exhibition was an interesting counterbalance to the changing history of Korean artistic styles since the War. Not for him the abstract expressionism of the Informel movement, or the austerity and asceticism of dansaekhwa; neither did he follow the realist protest art of the minjung movement. Throughout these years of change, Kim lived in Gangwondo near Seoraksan where he produced deceptively child-like work which conveyed the colours and energy of the flora and landscape with big, bold brush-strokes in large canvasses, retunring again and again to a similar theme. The exhibition for its brightness was remarkably invigourating.
I return to Myeongdong, satisfied and enriched by my outing to Gwacheon. I have a quick rest at the hotel before I sally forth again for my final engagement of my trip: dinner at San Chon restaurant in Insadong with various friends and acquaintances – thespians, journalists, artists, translators, business folk – anyone in my list of contacts, or indeed friends of friends, who happens to be free on that particular Sunday evening.
The walk to Insadong was colourful. Was it Buddha’s birthday? Was it the Hi! Seoul festival? I have no idea. But these random processions are all part of the fun of being in South Korea’s vibrant capital. the dinner and traditional entertainments up to the usual standard. A very pleasant and convivial end to my stay.