Taking in its age-old palaces and temples, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Seoul ’s also an engine of contemporary art and culture, and is home to a population of creative types—designers, sculptors, graphic artists, musicians, and directors—who have won plaudits and influenced their peers throughout Asia and beyond.
Here are a few must-see destinations for anyone keen on getting acquainted with the city’s cutting edge.
- Dongdaemun Design Plaza : At the time of writing, this fluid, eye-catching structure was a work in progress, but its studios and exhibition spaces are being groomed as the city’s main venue for the creation, promotion, and display of creative and industrial design.
- Platoon Kunsthalle : This constantly changing venue in the Apgujeong area is devoted wholeheartedly to hosting boundary-pushing forms of expression. That can mean anything from exhibitions and installations to graffiti festivals and flea markets.
- Kukje Gallery : There are plenty of galleries devoted to modern art in Seoul, but the Kukje has a truly exceptional eye for promising local artists—and tolerance for experimentation.
- Gangnam NANTA Theater : This theater’s namesake non-verbal performance is no underground sensation—in fact it’s a staple on the tourist circuit—but the kinetic skills of the actors are still a sight to behold, and it’s one of the best examples of a Korean genre that’s taken the global festival circuit by storm.
- Club Drug/DGDB : It’s been around for ages, but this cramped space in the Hongik University area is still the unofficial headquarters of Korea’s indie music scene. The limited number of local bands brave enough to dip into genres like punk, electro, ska, and shoegaze perform for a tightly knit, appreciative audience here on a near-nightly basis.
- Codes Combine : An entirely homegrown clothing label whose designs practically burst with youthful vitality and have won the hearts of legions of K-pop stars, Codes Combine has an outlet in the middle of the central Myeong-dong shopping district.
- Daily Projects : Consider this venue in Apgujeong a crash course in Korean fashions to come. It groups apparel, accessories, and shoes from undiscovered local designers.
- Club Eden : Other nightclubs may win out in terms of volume or sheer hedonism, but none can match Eden for consistent sophistication or the willingness to explore less crowd-pleasing genres like minimal techno.
- Oi : This surrealist lounge in the Hongik University area is an indication of just how far Seoul’s bar operators will go to foster a unique ambience.
- SJ B-boys Theater : This is the place to see why Seoul’s breakdancing crews have become a global force to be reckoned with.