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Vinyl Lotuses and Masked Horses: A Three-Minute Tour of South Korean Museums

With only 48 hours in the South Korean capital of Seoul, and 15 major museums to choose from, I gambled on the National Museum of Contemporary Art Korea, with no regrets. Before you enter the building, you’re greeted by an installation that re-interprets a quintessential lotus flower in mod, weatherproof vinyl. This work by Choi Jeong Hwa opens and closes every two minutes.

Inside, we spied a familiar feast: a circular tower of TVs spewing the pop-optical jam of Nam June Paik (an artist also represented in the IMA’s collection).

The two special exhibitions on view included Peppermint Candy, Korean art from the last 20 years, and Megacity Network: Contemporary Korean Architecture, Seoul. Both shows nailed South Korea’s speed-of-light cultural production, considering that the country was ravished by civil war 60 years ago.

Peppermint Candy featured op-art laser-like paintings blending propaganda and pop stars; a room full of actual incense burning words into a rug; eerie large format photos of elder Korean nudes; and a sculpture of 60 stiff, empty military uniforms sewed shoulder to shoulder by Do-Ho Suh (another artist in the IMA collection). Overall, the work accented the diversity, materialism, urbanism of South Korean society. Farewell, Confuscianism; hello, drag queens.

My time was limited in the Megacity exhibition, but suffice it to say, Korean architects are hot, hot, hot. The showcased examples had a boxy, glassy, grey chic.

More observations from museums in other Korean cities and towns:

A memorial to the Korean War experience featured old-timey dioramas, like this one depicting a POW camp:

More modern displays use 3D technology, like this ship steering simulation activity at the Samsung Heavy Industries corporate headquarters in Geoje, where they build massive ships used for oil drilling:

A dinosaur museum on Goseong featured an evolutionary timeline that I could have looked at all day. (We’re all descended from this critter, folks):

The dino museum also included a 4-D film.

What’s 4-D, you ask? Try puffs of air that shoot out of the seat in front of you, simulating the breath of a cranky T-Rex.

Interactivity is always a good bet, shown here at the Jinju National Museum:

It comes down to our relationship to objects. Imagine the Korean war horse outfitted with this noble faceplate, centuries ago.

Filed under: Art, Film, Travel

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