Arts and Leisure
Seoul’s artistic legacy runs rich and deep, a result of its centuries-old position at the heart of the nation’s creative endeavors.
For most visitors, the first encounters with this tradition are rooted squarely in the past—the enigmatic stone figures that guard palaces and tombs, the radiant murals adorning temple walls, the fluid brushstrokes of traditional calligraphy, or delicate ceramics that seem to glow from within.
Treasures like these are an important part of the tangible heritage that continues to inform the city’s fine art scene today, but to take them as the sum total or peak of its creative output would be a mistake.
Through conflict, deprivation, and development, Seoul’s creative class has continued to evolve, giving rise to a new generation of artists and performers who are simultaneously breaking away from and mining old traditions, producing work that straddles the ancient and the modern, the global and the local, and explores the tensions between these forces.
They express themselves in a wide range of media, from canvases to contemporary dance, video installations, and cutting-edge industrial design, and even a casual exploration of the city’s art world will yield plenty that provokes and inspires. Not all of it is readily accessible to the casual visitor, of course, but many galleries and museums have a strong international focus and go to great lengths to produce material in foreign languages to connect with overseas artists and patrons.
In art-centric neighborhoods such as Insa-dong, Buam-dong, and Hongdae, established exhibition and performance spaces frequently brush up against smaller, more experimental ones, making it easy to investigate different facets of the art landscape. Cinema and pop culture buffs will also find much to appreciate in Seoul’s burgeoning entertainment industry, which has developed a fan base throughout Asia.
When it comes to leisure, while Seoul’s still short on sporting facilities and green space—a result of the long, relentless focus on work that dragged the city out of postwar poverty—there’s been a belated realization that citizens also need to relax. Authorities have moved with characteristic vigor in recent years to carve out more parks, bike trails, and playing fields, especially on the banks of the Hangang (Han River). The city’s magnificent mountains, crisscrossed with trails that range from meandering to treacherous, also represent a much-needed natural recreation outlet.
© Jonathan Hopfner from Moon Seoul, 1st Edition