[Seoul] ~ Mix of Modern and Traditional in Leeum Samsung Art Museum

For there is beauty in making plans.. and breaking them. – 03.23.13


That day was originally meant for an out-of-Seoul trip to Gapyeong where I can see Nami Island, Garden of Morning Calm and Petite France. But my ‘always getting lost’ fate on my first day made me a bit scared. Also, there was a change in my scheduled dinner with family that I thought going someplace far would not be the best itinerary for the day.

I am sure being with other people has its unique joy but travelling alone has this perk of flexibility – you can easily change plans without pissing off anyone. So early that morning, with my sore muscles and while having my breakfast of Peppero stick and Coke Zero, I made my ‘what to do today’ list.


At times like then, a subway map, my travel notebook and Evernote were helpful.



Being my usual self – making such a mess with my bed


20130327_180031-smallAfter a few minutes of ‘planning’, I decided to go the Leeum Samsung Art of Museum that morning. I just saw online how it has some interesting gigantic art pieces so I said to self – let’s give it a try. Later on, I learned that this houses the most valued collection of Lee Kun-hee, the president of Samsung. What is more interesting is that unlike other museums that are either traditional or modern, this place combines both the traditional and contemporary.

To get there, I had to ride the subway to Hangangjin Station, one that is near Itaewon where I stayed before. I noticed that maybe because such district is known to be famous among foreigners, I was with more non-Korean passengers. Hangangjin Station also turned out to be one of the less busy stations which scared me at first because I thought I was getting lost. Later on though, it made me feel good to have been able to go to this side of the city as well.

Hangangjin Station

Less crowded Hangangjin Station


On the way to Leeum

Initially thought it would not be an easy find because online there were mentions of some walking for about n meters then more walking uphill. But these markers were helpful! 


Welcome to Korea

Saw this “Welcome to Korea” arch and staircase leading somewhere on my way to museum



Almost there. 


Samsung entrance

After walking for about 10 minutes and asking some men at a nearby parking lot and I am at the entrance!



Welcomed by this spacious and modern lobby…



..and these cute pieces! 


I think the museum just opened when I arrived there at around 10:30 in the morning. I immediately went to the lobby, paid the museum fee of KRW 10,000 (which I think is reasonable at  around Php300), got my audio guide for an additional KRW 2,000 and left my bag at package counter. Picture-taking is not allowed inside the museums except for the staircase and the outdoor area where the sculptures and other installations are.

20130327_180031-smallMuseum 1 houses the traditional art collection. I was told to take the elevator and start at the 4th floor then go down the circular staircase. Collection on the 4th was mostly of Celadon ceramics during the Goryeo Dynasty, 3rd mostly of Buncheong ware and porcelain, 2nd included paintings and calligraphy while first floor gallery contained Buddhist art and some metal works.

Though a staple of traditional museums, I was not a fan of old jars and bottles. Surprisingly though, a walk through the museum made me appreciate such pieces. I learned about the value the design that the creators put on each piece – from the glazes, how big the mouth is or how proportionate the jar is and of course, the interesting prints (such as dragons, lotus, twigs etc) which are actually meant to symbolize something.

I made a mistake of not bringing my notebook or my cellphone so I was not  able to note of my favorites but I remembered some of my personal favorites. I searched for these in the official Leeum, Samsung Museum website (http://leeum.samsungfoundation.org/) so let me share with you.

Celadon Peach-shaped water dropper

 Water dropped shaped like a peach because apparently, peach symbolizes longevity. 

Twig handle

Another favorite. The details are just exquisite. I specifically like the handle.

(Photos not mine. Grabbed from the Leeum Museum official website)


Circular Staircase

A floor down the circular staircase are more pieces from a later period. 


Buncheong Bottle

Called a Buncheong bottle. There are more jars and bottles of this shape during the Joseon Period.


Tortoise shell comb

Tortoise shell comb. Really pretty!


I did not go through the collection in the lower floors as thoroughly as in the ceramics area because I thought there are still a lot to see and I could hear my stomach complaining (I wonder why I am always like this – always getting hungry when I go to museums.) But particular favorites are the miniature metal items that are used in burials because of this belief that the dead would need those in the afterlife. Unfortunately though, I could not find pictures in the Leeum webpage.

Of the many paintings, I have this one favorite.

Screen shot 2013-03-30 at 10.55.06 AM

Called “Napping” from Joseon Dynasty. I like how it depicts a typical lazy afternoon during that time.


Museum 1 exit

Lovely exit of Museum 1


20130327_180031-smallMuseum 2, on the other hand, houses the Modern Art collection. I realized later on that this gets more interesting as you move on to the next collection. I was asked to start from the 3rd floor where there are interesting Korean modern art paintings. Floor below contains International Art and on the first floor are what I find personally fascinating Contemporary Art pieces from all over the world. Latter included not only paintings but unique sculptures and installations.

Let us start with Korean modern art pieces :

Felis Catus Animatus

~ This piece mimics the famous characters Tom and Jerry. ~

Human Dancers

~ Human dancers, supposedly. By making the human bodies look like triangles, artist is trying to break the norm of how human body is shaped when painted.~


~ An interesting panoramic shot of a town that was abandoned because of too much noise from planes leaving and arriving in Gimpo Airport. ~


~ Artist known for his many works containing hybrid character Atomaus – Mickey Mouse and Astroboy combined.~


~ Sculpture that looked like a real human from afar. Could not figure out what material ‘she’ is made of but she was covered in some kind of a masking tape ~

Water Drops

~ Quite a hypnotic piece this is. Stood in front of it and felt the same sadness I feel whenever it rains. Must be the water drops that look so real. ~ 

Wide World Wide

~ Cannot be seen clearly here but this is a world map pinned with paper strips labelled with unknown cities in the world. For the Philippines, it was Tuguegarao~


Light Sculptures

~ I love these light sculptures that I want to bring these home! Each depicts a Seoulite personhood, e.g. one into cosmetics, gardening, etc.

Needle Lady

~ Artist stands in crowded places and captures in videos reactions of people around her. Genius. ~ 

From the International Art collection, here are the ones I like most. I cannot find in the site though but I remember others that struck me. One is called “Dance of Agony” which is a disturbing painting created by a man who was mentally ill. He did the painting during his most unstable days before he committed suicide. There was also this wall filled with UNIQUE pills! If I remember correctly, the artist was sick as well and she collected pills and made art out of those.

Hex Mirror - Anish Capoor

~ As you move back, orientation of your reflection changes.


~ Distorted image of person somewhat gave me a creepy feeling, like the artist was going through some turmoil or depression when he did this.~

~ Artist apparently started this trend of starting to paint from the edges then letting the paint flow down to the center as that gives it a more natural effect than using the brush.~

Hamburg Blackboards

~  An actual board turned into art. Interesting. ~

Abstract  : Unabstract

~ What is beautiful with this is that this seems like an abstract one but it isn’t. The dense part in the middle is said to make this not an abstract one but a landscape.~


~ These seem like harmless cushion sculptures but artist is depicting the human sexual organs.~

In front of the museum outside is the platform for the gigantic sculptures, which luckily I was already able to take pictures of. It was around noontime then so the sun is high up which I find a relief to minimize the cold.


It was a lovely day to take pictures! 



Keep off the grass!


Tall Tree and the Eye

Kapoor is really into some reflection tricks



I heart that phrase “Memories of the Future”. Witty.



Choose your tree.



~ Hmm. I wonder how it is dangerous~


So I played with it nonetheless.



One more. And someone got curious. 



Can’t get enough.



How it looks like from afar.


20130327_180031-smallHow to go to Leeum Samsung Museum of Art. Ride the subway until you reach Hangangjin Station (Line 6, Orange) and take Exit 1. Go straight and turn right on first alley then walk uphill. There are signposts to help you find it as well. You would need roughly 2-3 hours to see all the displays. If you have limited time or do not feel like walking for a long time, best to choose whether you like Traditional or Modern Art then choose to visit that museum first. For each museum, the pieces get more interesting as you go down the galleries.

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