Outstanding – the LEEUM Samsong Museum of Art

Contemporary Art Museums are always a bit of gamble. Sometimes you win – sometimes you lose. This one was a winner. One of the best Museums we’ve seen in Korea – and maybe one of the best I’ve ever seen. World Class in every respect. Like the grading system in Harry Potter – Exceeds Expectations.

The building – actual 3 different interlocking buildings – are worth a look-see just on their own. As you can see from the photograph that Jill is holding – on the left is a rectangular building with windows, in the middle ground is the brown building designed to remind viewers of a fort (on the left) and a pot (on the right). On the extreme right – labeled memories of the future, is the third part – a lopsided jigsaw of black walls. Under the green grass in the middle (behind Jill and the ‘silver’ ball sculpture) is the main lobby of the museum.Plus, inside the first building is a suspended concrete black box (apparently the first of its kind) that holds an entire traveling exhibit.

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What you can’t see in the photo Jill is holding – but you can see in my picture is the gigantic Hyatt that got built just behind the Museum, and literally dwarfs it.

Trust me – seeing is much better than trying to describe.

But it’s not about the outside of a museum – it’s about the inside – and this one has insides to die for! We got the digital guide – a Samsung smart tablet that allowed you to see videos of the objects and rotate them at will, link to further information, plus provided an audio guide – and a guide to the artist with a bit of their history. Bottom line – coolest guide I’ve ever used. And it was controlled wireless by the art work – you moved close to a piece – it began to talk to you. Move away – and the next piece started to ‘chat’. Way cool.

Of the 5 distinct exhibits – 3 permanent, 2 temporary – two were completely outstanding – of the do not miss this – variety. The other 3 exhibits were good – just not amazingly awesome great. My plan – I’ll review the Permanent one in this blog – then cover the ‘traveling’ exhibit – which was amazing – in the next blog.

So – Outstanding Exhibit 1 – Permanent – “Modern Art”. This was 3 floors (80 pieces) of outstanding art, extremely well ‘curated’ in the audio guide – but clearly labeled by Artist, Date, and Title in the Museum itself. On the top floor were the works by the Korean contemporary Artists – names that I didn’t recognize of course – but art I won’t soon forget. There was a glorious scene of mountains that combined Korean Classical penmanship with modern sensitivities to create a scene full of movement and drama. I didn’t need the guide to tell me to admire the dramatic curves of the path, the stream with its nude bathers, the rocks, the fog, or the mountains. Stunning. Another favorite on the third floor was called something like ‘The Modern Woman’ in Korean. It featured a drawing of a very typical middle-aged Korean peasant woman showing the traditional effects of the hard life of a farmer (wrinkled skin, chunky body, thick muscular arms and legs) holding up a ‘modern’ dress about 6 sizes too small. East meets West, Expectation meets Reality. Traditional confronts the Future. Very powerful, very simple, unforgettable.

On the 2nd and first floor were a mix of works by international acclaimed artists and internationally known Korean artists. I only have time and space to describe a few of these amazing pieces.

There were 3 works by Mark Rothko, meaningful because I saw the play ‘Red’ (the story of Mark Rothko) in Montreal just before leaving the city. There was a wonderful series by a Korean artist who took clothes racks and decorated them to reflect the current state of Korean confusion – modern vs traditional, appealing junk vs ‘mom’s’ boring conservative tastes. Very interesting.

I also liked a gigantic cyborg woman, hung dramatically from the ceiling, and a simple piece of just a large rock and a sheet of iron. The contrast between natural and man-made – and your ability as the viewer to move around and within the piece made it very captivating – way more interesting than I can easily explain. I also liked a large pentagonal mirrored surface that fractured any image – creating an interesting play on the term – mirror.

The majority of the pieces were well-lit, easy to see and to enjoy. One exception, and I hate to be negative, was an installation called ‘Death’ that was composed of several thousand pills. The problem? To protect the installation, they had used several large sheets of glass. Since they were highly reflective – the result was the piece across was reflected so strongly that it was almost impossible to see the pills.

On the other hand – a pair of life-sized ‘models’, cunningly made by pasting photographs on the appropriate body part were so well position in a corner that it was hard to realize they weren’t alive. On top of these pieces, there was an Easter Egg by Jeff Koons, a statue by Alberto Giacometti and a piece by Andy Warhol.

I always think that if I see 2 or 3 pieces I enjoy – I’ve done well. But in this one part of this museum, at least 2/3rds of the art was if not wonderful, at least approachable. Having the audio guide helped of course.

Come back tomorrow to hear about an even more impressive part of the museum – a traveling exhibit called ‘Mise-en-Scene’.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

2 thoughts on “Outstanding – the LEEUM Samsong Museum of Art

  1. That does sound really nifty – I’m not normally one for modern art, but this sounds like there was enough there (with the guide) to make it intriguing/approachable.

    • Definitely – I always opt for getting the guides – you often just don’t know what to even look for with art – and guides make it so much more interesting. The nice thing here in Korea is – they are either free – or very inexpensive. (like $2) – so it’s a lot easier to feel good about getting them!

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