This past April, as light- and dark-pink azalea blooms covered Seoul, 19 trustees and Leadership Circle members, accompanied by CMA director and president William M. Griswold and Korea Foundation Curator of Korean Art, Sooa McCormick, enjoyed a 10-day journey immersed in historical and contemporary Korean art and culture.
In Seoul, the group visited important historical sites, including the two best-preserved royal palaces of the Joseon dynasty (1392–1910) built on neo-Confucian aesthetics: Changdeokgung Palace, known for its intimate garden, and Gyeongbokgung Palace, for its architectural grandeur. The group also visited the National Museum of Korea, with its elegantly presented collection of Korean art spanning prehistoric to early modern periods. While participants were impressed with the savvy implementation of digital immersive technologies in showcasing historical works of art, the recently installed Room of Quiet Contemplation, where two pensive bodhisattva statues are on display, provided the group with meditative experiences, as if stepping into a solitary Buddhist monastery.
The tour also included a visit to two prominent private museums in Seoul: the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art and the Amorepacific Museum. At the Leeum, our participants enjoyed the stunning exhibition Joseon White Porcelain: Paragon of Virtue, where several ceramic masterworks of the Joseon dynasty made a rare public appearance. At the Amorepacific Museum, they encountered a wide spectrum of Korean folding screens. Additionally, many of our participants enjoyed both museums’ captivating architectural spaces designed by world-renowned architects: Mario Botta, Jean Nouvel, Rem Koolhaas, and David Chipperfield.
Perhaps the most unique element of the director’s trip to South Korea was the opportunity to meet and converse with leading contemporary artists. At Kim Jong-ku’s studio located at the foot of Inwangsan mountain, the multimedia artist welcomed the group not only with his quintessential paintings in steel powder but also with freshly baked rice bread and traditional Korean wine called makgeolli, like a ceremony to bless our group’s time there.
Rounding out the Seoul itinerary were visits to important contemporary art galleries, including Gallery Hyundai, the longest-running contemporary art gallery in Korea, as well as Kukje Gallery, where participants were greeted with both a private viewing and an Italian-Japanese lunch. Many of the members discovered how Korean contemporary art is extremely global yet at the same time echoes traditional Korean aesthetics. The group then had an intimate viewing of gallery CEO Mrs. Lee Hyun-sook’s elegantly curated art collection at her home.
After these art-packed days in Seoul, the group traveled to Gyeongju, a city that served as the capital of the Unified Silla Kingdom (668–935), boasting a population of about a million people during the height of Silla power between the 600s and 800s. On the first day, the group visited the colossal tombs in Tumuli Park and Cheomseongdae, the oldest surviving astronomical observatory in East Asia. On the same afternoon, the group witnessed splendid remnants of the glorious Silla Kingdom, including gold crowns, Buddhist artifacts, stone sculptures, and stunning metal works, at the Gyeongju National Museum. On the second day, they toured the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Bulguksa Temple, Seokguram Grotto, a manmade stone Buddhist cave-temple where a magnificent, seated Buddha statue rests at the foot of Tohamsan mountain, as well as a Bunhwangsa Temple site where another National Treasure—an early seventh-century pagoda made of black andesite—stands alone reminiscing its golden days. In the afternoon, the group met ink painter Park Dae Sung at the Solgeo Art Museum and learned about his ink paintings, from intimate calligraphy to monumental landscape works.
On the final day back in Seoul, the group celebrated a successful and safe adventure at the PKM gallery. Several special guests joined that festive dinner, including Ki-hwan Kim, president of the Korea Foundation; professor Nam-won Jang, president of the Art History Association of Korea; and Robert Post, minister-counselor for public diplomacy from the US embassy.
The museum is thrilled to once again offer international travel opportunities to its members. Priority registration for future trips begins at the $10,000 Leadership Circle Collector level. For more information, please contact Allison Tillinger, associate director of leadership and annual giving at email@example.com or 216-707-6832.