Whanki Museum, Buam-dong

This purpose-built museum is dedicated to Korea’s most renowned 20th-century artist, Kim Whanki, whose work appears in the collections of the Pompidou in Paris and the Guggenheim in New York – two cities he called home. Heralded as an early proponent of abstract art, Kim first rose to global prominence at the São Paulo Biennale in 1963. This prompted his move to New York, where he produced the dot paintings that made him the most sought-after Korean artist at auction to this day. 

About 2,500 of Kim’s works now reside at this museum, which was established by the artist’s wife after his death. Nine galleries show a rotating selection of his pieces alongside those by winners of the Prix Whanki art prize and mature artists supported by the Whanki Foundation. Check out the antique stained-glass window in the main building’s entrance hall, which was inspired by one of Kim’s paintings. 

63 Jahamun-ro 40-gil, Jongno-gu 
+82 (0)2 391 7701

National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art

What began in 1969 as a small space in Gyeongbokgung now consists of four locations in and around the city. The first (and for many, the only) stop is the so-called Seoul branch, which opened in 2013 on the site of a former domestic counterintelligence and security agency. Alongside an extensive collection of modern Korean and international artworks, it also hosts the prestigious Korea Artist prize. 

The Deoksugung branch is the most central. Partly renovated in 2017, it’s housed in a prewar western-style building in the palace grounds. The contrast of traditional and modern architecture amid gardens is pleasant, even if you don’t venture inside. Sculpture fans should visit the outdoor park at the museum in Gwacheon, on the outskirts of Seoul. The newest branch, in Cheongju, which is dedicated to conservation, opened in 2018.

+82 (0)2 3701 9500

National Museum of Korean Contemporary History, Susong-dong

Korea’s rapid modernisation is well documented but the “Miracle on the Han River”, as Seoul’s post-1950s growth is known, was hard earned. The Museum of Contemporary History, which opened in 2012 next to Gwanghwamun Square, provides an easy-to-follow overview (with translations) of Korea’s turbulent 20th-century. 

The permanent display reminds visitors how Koreans had to fight for independence from Japan, live in shanty towns following the devastating Korean War and endure martial law before they grew this modern nation known for its mass-market cars, consumer electronics and mighty chaebols. 

198 Sejongno, Jongno-gu 
+82 (0)2 3703 9200

Images: Jun Michael Park

Go back: Seoul


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Monocle 24

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  • The Pacific Shift