At last. After many months of speculation, and then many more months of anticipation, the inaugural edition of Frieze Seoul opens Friday at the Coex Convention and Exhibition Center in the Gangnam district, alongside the Korea International Art Fair. Hundreds of exhibitors from around the world will be on hand. In many other countries, galleries are still closed for summer breaks, but not here. All around the South Korean capital, dealers have been opening major exhibitions in recent days, hoping to lure visitors who are in town for the fairs, and perhaps in the mood to buy. Below, five picks for exhibitions to see from the many dozens that are on offer.
A few quick notes first: A bevy of excellent international galleries have set up outposts in town in recent years, but the focus for this list is on homegrown outfits. (I enjoy a Shack Shack burger while traveling—and here in Seoul!—but it would be bizarre not to sample the local delicacies first.) And all of these space are north of the river, fairly far from Gangnam, a restriction I set because I figure that venues there will be more heavily trafficked due to their proximity to Coex. For those navigating the city for the first time: P21 and Whistle are less than 10 minutes apart by foot; strolling from PKM to Museumhead, through the beautiful Bukchon Hanok Village, will take about 20 minutes; and BB&M and Gallery2 are further north from there, and are best reached by car. Why did I just name six galleries for a list of five shows? Read on!
Chung Chang-Sup at PKM
This exhibition of later work by the Dansaekhwa (“monochrome painting”) legend Chung Chang-Sup, who died at 84 in 2011, opens with a masterstroke: a handful of off-white paintings from his final series, “Meditation,” glowing in the dim light. Their borders are carefully lined with tak—craggily fiber from mulberry bark, which Chung mixed with water—and their centers are immaculately flat, blank but not exactly empty. They amount to tender invitations to look closely, and then to look again. In other rooms, smoldering color awaits, and all-black pieces appear to contain fathomless depths, capable of absorbing light and thought.
On view through October 15 at PKM Gallery, 40 Samcheong-ro 7-gil, Jongno-gu.
Taeyoon Kim at Whistle
Step into Taeyoon Kim’s elegant solo show at the compact Whistle gallery, and the frenetic energy of the surrounding Itaewon neighborhood suddenly fades. The room is dark, and the mood is serene. Small videos offer fleeting glimpses of everyday life: a pool of water, a sliver of a street. Some tiny abstract drawings are based on afterimages of these works, an accompanying text informs. Speakers provide a beguiling soundtrack that features birdcalls, rustling leaves (perhaps), and faint melodies. Call it offhand ambient art or soft structuralism: everything lightly connected. It feels good to experience the world this way.
On view through October 1 at Whistle, 12, Hoenamu-ro 13-gil, 3rd floor, Yongsan-gu.
Haneyl Choi at P21 and Gallery2
The most fun I have had in Seoul’s white cubes this summer? That is easy: this doubleheader from Haneyl Choi, a venturesome sculptor of the human form who turned 30 last year. There are towering 3D-printed naked men, a jagged Styrofoam near-abstraction to melt David Smith’s mind, and other experiments that evince an artist who feels very free, and who would you like you to feel very free, too. A bonus: Choi is also in a pas de deux of a two-person show at the Ilmin Museum of Art with Osang Gwon, another superb conjurer of the body. Prepare to swoon.
On view through October 1 at P21, 74 Hoenamu-ro, Yongsan-gu, and Gallery2, 204 Pyeongchang-gil Jongno-gu.
'Magnetic Fields' at BB&M
The four swirling, undulating abstractions that Lee Bul has forged from acrylic paint and mother of pearl alone make this exhibition an essential visit. But more pleasures abound in this sharp display of five artists from BB&M’s multigenerational roster. Jin Han Lee has blazing paintings that suggest a hallucinogen-altered natural world, Bae Young-whan’s taut (aesthetically and conceptually) silver canvases riff on David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” and Jeongsu Woo’s sunny paintings, with syncopated patterns, are palate cleansers—like sweet but nuanced sorbet—in this multi-course feast. That makes Kim Heechon’s heady VR work the show’s dessert, or after-dinner drinks, as the mood turns dark.
On view through October 8 at BB&M, 10 Seongbuk-ro 23-gil, Seongbuk-gu.
Eugene Jung at Museumhead
It is not clear what happened, but all hell has broken loose, and its aftermath comprises this ultra-confident show from Eugene Jung, who was born in 1985. Sandbags form a curving wall, crowd-control barricades are shunted to the side, and sculptures resembling rusted metal sheets look like makeshift post-disaster architecture, now decaying. The water pool in front of this reliable nonprofit space holds fractured hunks of what could be an airplane fuselage or an exploded modernist sculpture (of Styrofoam and other materials). Jung shows a futuristic dystopia that looks uncomfortably like the present. It will be exciting—and harrowing—to follow where she leads next.
On view through September 7 at Museumhead, 84-3, Gyedong-gil, Jongno-gu.