Wednesday, January 23, 2013

SeMA Nowon: better than Gauguin

Never say never again: one year ago, the Seoul Museum of Art announced that it would distance itself from big shows with big international names (see "SeMA to block blockbusters"), but 2012 ended with the Tim Burton extravaganza (talk about big fish), and yesterday*, The  Korea JoongAng Daily detailed SeMA's plans for the year to come, starring a major Paul Gauguin exhibition to be held June-September 2013 in Seosomun branch (talk about a summer blockbuster).

It's great, particularly for a large public who never had the occasion to see really significant works from an artist I love, but I was much more interested in updates regarding the future SeMA North Branch in Nowon-gu.

I always wondered what would come out of this site, still hidden by tall fences last time I passed by, last month. That's a very good location, between Junggye and Hagye stations, surrounded by massive apartment blocks and just in front of a key commercial hotspot: Outlet 2001 +, HomePlus (formerly HomEver, formerly Carrefour Junggye), the second one after Nowon Station, on the other side of Danghyeoncheon. Perfect to reach for new visitors, and to boost Northeast Seoul's cultural life. 

SeMA North Branch (SeMA Nowon? SeMA Junggye?) will be inaugurated in July 2013, and officials quoted in the article mentioned "crafts, design, and architecture" and "public art" as the main "verticals" for the new venue. We also received the confirmation that the Main Branch (SeMA Seosomun) would propose more international magnets. It is very important to couple each event with a more local one: I sincerely hope many visitors to the Tim Burton show stopped by the wonderful exhition of Seoul pictures on the ground floor (see "A thousand villages, a thousand memories - Seoul Photo Festival 2012"). Bonus: that expo was free. But of course, that's not the reason why I visited the Seoul photo festival expo three times, sharing twice very emotional moments with fellow visitors I'd never met before, but who had personal stories with certain pictures or photographers.

The potential repositioning of SeMA Nam Seoul (South Branch, near Sadang) is not very clear, but I guess the editorial line will remain focused on more intimate exhibitions.

What about SeMA Gyeonghuigung, that big space in the most prestigious of all locations, but an empty shell most of the time?

My dream would be a SeMA KIM Ki-chan, a living museum devoted to photography, built around the collection of Seoul's - and probably Korea's - all time greatest photographer, the man who captured the soul of the city, of its people, of its alleyways. Furthermore, Kim Ki-chan grew up just hectometers away from the site, in Sajik-dong.

That would be great: permanent collections of great Korean photographers, temporary exhibitions, and as tribute to the people of Seoul KIM Ki-chan revealed for generations to see in their daily lives, a large space devoted to photos taken by anonym citizens.

At a time when human relations grow virtual, at a time when the whole city is captured thousands of time a day by its citizens and visitors for the whole world to see on social networks, Seoul has a duty to get real and to make something of all its fantastic cultural assets.

Seoul Village 2013
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* "Gauguin exhibition set for Seoul museum" (KJD 2013/01/23)

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