SEOUL – A single street in Seoul is the perfect place to map out a cultural itinerary on your next vacation to South Korea, as Samcheong-ro presents a panoramic view of the capital’s exploding art scene for free, or close to free.
Just a 20-minute bus ride from Myeongdong’s shopping streets, Samcheong-ro is Seoul’s premier arts district. Notably, it offers a different view of South Korea’s cultural ascendancy beyond K-pop, K-beauty and K-drama.
K-art, too, is going global.
An ongoing exhibition of South Korean experimental artists at The Guggenheim in New York City is proof. Seoul, too, is quickly transforming itself into Asia’s next art capital with its roster of international arts events, including the annual Frieze Seoul.
There are other artsy neighbourhoods in Seoul.
Hannam and Cheongdam are two with a high density of art galleries. But there is something charming to me about the Samcheong area and its long history, bringing together old and new cultural gems.
It is likely that the area blossomed organically, following the move of Gallery Hyundai – South Korea’s longest-running contemporary art gallery – in 1975 from nearby Insa-dong to Samcheong-ro.
The area, surrounded on both sides by cultural landmarks, is ideal for an arts district. Gyeongbokgung Palace, built in 1395 and home to the royal family during the Joseon dynasty, sprawls across Samcheong-ro; while Bukchon Hanok Village wraps around the other side, offering an intimate view of traditional Korean houses.
The Korean name Samcheong refers to the three purities found in the area: pure water, pure mountains and pure humanity.
It is said that poets used to gather in the area to wax lyrical. With gallery rooftops offering stunning mountain views today, the place is still worthy of poetry.
Contemporary art stalwarts such as Kukje Gallery, established in 1982, line the street. But there are also new kids on the block from the international stage, including Berlin-based gallery Peres Projects, which has just opened its second location in Seoul.
Gallery founder Javier Peres says: “Our initial location within The Shilla Hotel was somewhat secluded and private, and we aspired to expand to a larger exhibition space in an even more central and dynamic neighbourhood.”
A vibrant neighbourhood, he says, is stimulating for his team and his artists. “We feel immersed in the beating heart of one of the most active scenes in contemporary art, which is extremely inspiring.”