Art Gallery in Seoul

Founded in 1982, Kukje Gallery in Seoul, South Korea was established by chairman and founder Lee Hyun Sook. The gallery established itself as one that promotes Korean art, specifically Dansaekhwa (directly translated as monochrome painting) artists including Lee Ufan, Ha Chong Hyun and Park Seo Bo, as well as introduces works by international contemporary artists from Alexander Calder to Jean-Michel Othoniel. Candida Hofer and Superflex were on display during my visit in June 2024.

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K3, Kukje Gallery in Seoul, South Korea. Image by Von Chua.

Whilst remaining independent in a highly competitive sector, Kukje Gallery’s architecture in its Seoul outpost also speaks of its appreciation of architecture that is worthy of mentioning. Softly but strongly present after turning a few corners right next to Gyeongbokgung historic palace in the heart of one of the oldest districts in Seoul, the ethereal presence of the architecture designed by SO-IL houses one of the three exhibition spaces amongst the grounds of Kukje Gallery. Like many major galleries, the 11,000 square foot space that holds the artwork is also an important representation of what the gallery represents. Whilst remaining small in terms of footprint of the gallery, Kukje Gallery commissioned New York-based SO-IL architecture firm with a global narrative and perspectives for K3 building. Amongst the three gallery buildings, SO-IL delivered K3 building in 2012. The facade element that felt the lightest with its stainless steel chainmail mesh facade was delivered in collaboration with Front Inc. . With the varying geometries that punctured through the building’s surfaces, which the chainmail adapts to wrap snugly over them, the design team appeared to have had a challenging task on hand. Front developed a rule-based associative model to develop the snug fit chainmail that is smooth, ethereal and ghost-like. Although subdued, its presence was unmistakable as one walked through the narrow passageways to arrive at K3 Kukje Gallery. Contractor Jehyo Construction delivered it under Front’s post-design development stage, where Front’s team took on a design and coordination role for the fabrication and delivery of the chainmail mesh.

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The ethereal presence of Kukje Gallery appears soft, delicate and light from afar. Upon closer inspection, the layer of softness is shared by individually welded rings. The soft appearance is an intelligent mix of Front’s computational resolution, the Chinese artisans’ and Jehyo Construction’s craftsmanship, and a deep understanding of how the material and how they are put together performs and acts. The end result is a smooth and wrinkle-free surface that softly wraps around the solid geometries of the gallery. The soft ethereal skin is made up of 510,000 rings in 1.5 inch diameter, taking inspiration from traditional armour that is made up of interlocking metal rings to result in a strong yet pliable fabric. The 510,000 rings were carefully designed, made and then joined together to form the layer of mesh. When seemingly simple materials are presented in a creative way, the end result is refreshing and exciting.

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510,000 metal rings fitted together by a group of artisans in China. Image by Von Chua.

Situated amongst traditional Korean hanok houses, as the gallery is located in one of the oldest districts in Seoul, Kukje Gallery’s ghosted presence sensitively adds to the neighbourhood. The scale of the architecture proposed by SO-IL’s team coupled with the attention to detail through the chainmail mesh that somewhat echoes the surrounding rooflines without mimicking them were pleasant juxtapositions. Most visitors arrive at Kukje Gallery by passing by the Gyeongbokgung historic palace, so seeing how the modern architecture of Kukje Gallery interacting with traditional Korean architecture was enjoyable to see.

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Kukje Gallery’s surroundings. Image by Von Chua.

Kukje Gallery’s architecture in Seoul challenged the idea of the white box gallery, presenting to the world a seemingly expected concrete box, but upon an in-person visit to experience the subtle details, reveals itself to be an exceptional piece of artistic work in its own right. Kukje Gallery’s leading position as a South Korean-founded and based art gallery is now seen more and more favourably as artists and galleries seeking a base in Seoul, even a base in Asia, turn to Kukje Gallery as one of the key local Asian representatives. Taken from an interview published in the Korea Herald in April 2024, Kukje Gallery’s chairman and founder Lee Hyun Sook was quoted as saying

I still feel my heart pounding when I see art that I like. You cannot ever offer others what you do not like. When it comes to qualification for gallerists, credibility should come first. That is the most important thing in the long run.

Kukje Gallery’s chairman and founder Lee Hyun Sook

Aligned with its prominent position in the industry, the gallery’s ability to present a spatial experience that is unique in person is probably one of the most powerful ways to draw visitors to revisit a gallery again and again. I’d love to next visit K3, Kukje Gallery in Seoul at dusk.