Apparently, the founder of the Samsung corporation was a devoted collector of art. He founded a few galleries to display his collection, and he asked his successors at Samsung to continue to collect art and present it to the public. Thus the Samsung corporation created and runs this impressive gallery in Itaewon.
This is one of the classiest museums I have ever been to. Everything is super-clean, like the clean room of wherever Samsung makes its semi-conductors. Okay, it’s probably not that clean, so let’s say it’s as clean as a never-used Samsung gadget in a store display. There are staff everywhere through the museum, always ready to help visitors (and make sure they don’t damage the art) dressed in formal attire. Furthermore, it’s clear that the museum has been designed by high-class architects. In short, it’s the kind of museum you get when a private entity with deep pockets decides to pour lots of money into making a museum as impressive as possible (yes, I have also encountered this kind of museum in Japan).
That’s not to say that publicly-owned museums can’t look nice/impressive – many do – but institutions relying on public money generally have to be somewhat conscious of getting the best value for every won spent. Samsung is obviously willing to spend extra money to make this museum even sleeker than the National Museum of Korea (though it no doubt helps that the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art is only a fraction of the size of the National Museum of Korea).
The first part is dedicated to traditional artwork, starting with a collection of Goryeo celadon ware. It’s not quite as impressive as the collection at the National Museum of Korea, but the presentation is better. It’s in a very dimly lit gallery, with black walls, with only the artwork itself lit up. It’s a much more intimate feeling that the sweeping and airy National Museum. The next floor is buncheong and white porcelain works, and after that is a floor dedicated to traditional painting, and finally a floor dedicated to Buddhist art and metal works. What I particularly remember about the painting floor is the little subsections dedicated to different genres of traditional Korean painting.
You can see photos of all of the works exhibited at the official website.
The white spiral staircase which connects the levels is impressive. It has tiny little vertical windows into the center, and the light passes through those windows in such a way that it creates a spiral shape along the walls of the central chamber. It’s difficult to describe if you’re not there.
I will continue to describe the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art in the next post, which will be about the second and third parts of the museum, which are dedicated to modern/contemporary art.