Saturday, November 23, 2013

MMCA Seoul

Last week, I visited the Blue House, east of Gyeongbokgung. Not the one to the north of the palace (Cheong Wa Dae), but the one SUH Do-ho erected in the new Seoul branch of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art:

"Home within home within home within home" by Do-ho SUH: a life-size hanok in a town house in a museum. SUH's fabric structures are always spectacular, and visitors to the MMCA Seoul can enjoy this one from various interesting angles, including from the mezzanine (here), and of course from within.

If you're familiar with this excuse for a blog, you've followed this museum project from the start, seen it change names several times, and even virtually toured it from the sky (see previous episodes, including "MOCA goes MMCA - Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art" and "MMCA Seoul from above"). For years I've roamed the neighborhood, watched it unveil its old and new volumes, and counted the days to November 12th (official inauguration), feeling the same excitement as before the opening of Gwanghwamun Square*. In both cases, I knew the architecture wouldn't not be as great as it could have been, but I couldn't wait to see how a neighborhood I loved would integrate a new cultural landmark doubled with a new space opened to pedestrians. The kind of places that make urbanists and art lovers curious.

Don't worry, I won't follow the future MMCA Cheongju until its completion. The next branch of the museum is expected to open by 2015 in a former tobacco factory, and shall devote large volumes to the storage and conservation of artworks, a stimulating challenge for new media and interactive installations, and not only at the hardware level.

Hardware and software, artworks and museums, fabric homes within concrete shells... shall I start with the contents or the container? Maybe the latter, because I knew that whatever the circumstances, I was sure to experience an emotional moment in the old Gimusa staircase:

Summer 2009 (during the ASYAAF, a few months before the renovation started)

Back to half-round one, November 14, 2013. I'm so glad they kept the original handrail.

And once you've reached the rooftop, the view can't be more royal (from Bugaksan to Inwansan, from Cheong Wa Dae to Gyeongbokgung to Gwanghwamun).

So. I came back - again - on November 14th for a closer look, and still then, it was hard to tell if the architecture would work as planned in cruise mode: at that early stage, not all spaces were open, and not all connections between floors and buildings were operational. Except for the exhibition on the "Birth of a museum: the MMCA construction archive project", most of the upper floors, their cultural facilities and terraces were off limits for lambda visitors. The extensive museum shop didn't have a bookstore, and food-wise, the cafeteria was to start only on November 15th, the restaurant and digital book cafe a bit later.

Which left us the food court, but that didn't feel like a punition: we were by the window facing the Gyeonbokgung and majestic autumn trees, enjoying surprisingly delicious dishes, watching visitors and strollers cross the public madang with smiles on their faces (even those who were not sipping the free coffee offered to passers-by). Bonus: since we were eating in the food court, we could not see the cube hosting it, definitely not the finest moment in modern architecture.

Actually, the most interesting part of the complex remains the contrast between the old Gimusa's main building and the Office of Royal Genealogy, a newly rebuilt hanok. And as advertized, many things happen underground.

I'll leave it up to art critics to judge the inaugural exhibitions (which will end between February and July next year to introduce asynchronicity in the calendar of events). On paper, my veneration for The Blind Librarian drew me to the Borghesian "Aleph Project", and its impossible point of convergence, but of course you can only try to describe the spot where all points of views of the universe can be seen, and wait for sparks (I mean less literally than in Edwin van der Heide's "Evolving Spark Network"**). As the project unfolds, let's see if MMCA Seoul becomes Dali's "Gare de Perpignan".

MMCA capella? Classical music, underground location

Resolutely contemporary, the Seoul branch doesn't have any permanent collection, even if MMCA seizes the opportunity to display parts of its extensive collections, in "Zeitgeist Korea" for the inauguration. You'll find Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries among the "site specific projects", with the head-turner of an installation a tad less subversive than in the one I mentioned in a previous focus:

YHCHI @ MMCA Seoul - in the background, one of the 'madang' around which part of the museum unfolds.

For another inaugural exhibition, "Connecting_Unfolding", six curators selected seven artists, prolonging sometimes their dialogs in talks given in situ - here, Marc Lee with curator Bernhard Serexhe:

Marc Lee presents the 'soft' part of his "10,000 moving cities": when you select a city, the relevant images, videos, and tweets are sourced from the web, and projected in real-time on 3D city blocks.

There's no shortage of art spaces in Korea, in Seoul, and in the neighborhood, but this one can help lift contemporary arts in general and new media / interactive art in particular to new levels because it has the potential to bring new audiences, and to become a prestigious international crossroads. Its location and openness were key assets from the start, and I'm curious to see the creative / institutional platform work full swing.

  • MMCA Seoul (check dates and book online:

Seoul Village 2013
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* see "Gwanghwamun Square - Preview"
** in a completely different field, the ECM expo set the sensory experience bar very high in Seoul:

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