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3 Exhibitions Commemorating the Opening of the Art Archives, Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA AA)

Opened in Pyeongchang-dong on April 4, the Art Archives, Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA AA) is the only public museum in South Korea specializing in art archives.

The Art Archives, Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA AA), Seoul. Photo by Kim YongKwan (김용관). Courtesy of the museum.

The Art Archives, Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA AA), which opened in Pyeongchang-dong on April 4, is one of the eight branches of the Seoul Museum of Art and the only public museum In South Korea specializing in art archives. (A private museum that collects art archive materials is the Kimdaljin Art Archives and Museum, also located in Pyeongchang-dong.)

The city of Seoul had initially planned to build a gas station at the location. However, at the request of local artists who desired an art and culture complex, it was decided to build a museum branch instead, and preparations for its construction began in 2014.

The museum consists of three buildings: The main building, Collaborating Space (or moeum building in Korean), includes spaces such as exhibition halls, a reference library with over 4,500 art books, and a research lab with more than 20,000 original archival materials. The Learning Space (baeum) building is for educational programs, and the Exchanging Space (nanum) building, located across the street from the two buildings, has a coffee shop on the first floor and a multipurpose room on the second floor where public programs, such as academic events and performances, are held. 

Reference Library, the Art Archives, Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA AA), Seoul. Photo by Noh Ki Hoon (노기훈). Courtesy of the museum.

SeMA AA is an art museum that selects, collects, preserves, and researches numerous records and materials that trace the trajectories of individuals and organizations and document the lived experience and legacy of contemporary Korean art. 

Art archives can collectively substantiate an important contextual background as we can gain insight into the artist and their life, in addition to understanding art history, making them an important contribution to the art world. 

Since 2017, SeMA AA has amassed a total of 22 collections containing around 57,000 archival materials, including artists’ notes, drawings, handwritten manuscripts, diaries, correspondence, memos, photographs, films, and books, as well as the writings of art historians, critics, and curators.

Three exhibitions are currently on view at the new institution to commemorate its opening. The exhibition, Cheerful Learning, Delightful Knowledge, Joyful Knowing, highlights the extensive collection of Choi Min, and Archive Highlight: Kim Yong-Ik, Kim Tchah-Sup, Rim Dong Sik presents the archival materials of three artists. These two special exhibitions will run through July 30. A permanent exhibition project, SeMA-Project A, showcases the works of eight contemporary artists in various locations throughout the museum.

Exhibition view: "Cheerful Learning, Delightful Knowledge, Joyful Knowing," the Art Archives, Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA AA), Seoul (April 4, 2023 - July 30, 2023). Courtesy of the museum.

Cheerful Learning, Delightful Knowledge, Joyful Knowing sheds light on Choi Min’s (1944–2018) collection of artworks and historical documents. Choi was an acclaimed poet, translator, critic, and educator interested in various aspects of visual culture, including film and advertisements.

He is best known for translating Ernst Gombrich’s The Story of Art and John Berger’s Ways of Seeing into Korean and as a founding member of Reality and Utterance (현실과 발언), an influential 1980s Korean art movement group. Choi amassed 161 artworks and nearly 25,000 materials during his lifetime, all of which were donated to the SeMA in 2019 and 2020.

At five locations throughout the museum, the exhibition showcases the results of a year’s worth of research on Choi Min’s collection by experts in various fields such as art, film, literature, and bibliography. In addition to the collection itself, artworks from the SeMA’s collection and newly commissioned works of photography, video, and installation are also displayed. These artworks, created by Hong Goo Kang, Jaeyeon Kim & Sunho Nam, Eun Chun, Jiin Juen, and Minseung Jang, offer insight into the world of Choi Min and his collection.

In conjunction with this exhibition, Choi Min Collection: Ways of Seeing at the Seosomun main branch of the SeMA features a total of 161 artworks by 25 artists from Choi Min’s collection until May 7, 2023.

Exhibition view: "Archive Highlight: Kim Yong-Ik, Kim Tchah-Sup, Rim Dong Sik," the Art Archives, Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA AA), Seoul (April 4, 2023 - July 30, 2023). Photo by Noh Ki Hoon (노기훈). Courtesy of the museum.

Archive Highlight: Kim Yong-Ik, Kim Tchah-Sup, Rim Dong Sik is presented in the lounge space on the second floor of SeMA AA’s Collaborating Space. About 50 artist notes and rough sketches by three artists who pioneered their own paths against the changing social and political climate of Korea in the 1970s are presented in the exhibition.

Kim Yong-Ik (b. 1947) first gained prominence with his Plane Object series in the 1970s, which challenged the traditional two-dimensional nature of paintings by exposing their three-dimensional materiality. After that, he expanded his artistic practice to include conceptual, public, and ecological art. 

Kim Tchah-Sup (1940–2022) was one of the founders of the Korean Avant-Garde Association (AG Group), a collective that helped shape avant-garde art in Korea. As an artist who constantly questioned universal truths, he was well known for his delicate printmaking (etching) work that expressed materials such as rocks or triangles with fine lines.

Rim Dong Sik (b. 1945), a first-generation nature artist, explores the relationship with nature through various works, such as performance, photography, drawing, and painting. The performative nature of his work only lingers for a moment in nature before vanishing without a trace. The records of Rim’s works are indispensable for comprehending the artist’s creative world.

Installation view: Chung Hyun, 'Untitled,' (2018), "SeMA-Project A," the Art Archives, Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA AA), Seoul. Photo by LEE SEUNG YUL (이승열). Courtesy of the museum.

The exhibition project, SeMA-Project A, explores the various spaces of the SeMA AA, which comprises several sites and buildings. The project presents a total of eight works by Koh San-keum, Kim In-kyum, Kim Hong-seok, Chung Hyun, Soyoung Chung, Hong Myung Seop, Hong Suk-ho, and Hwang Hae-sun. Consisting of newly commissioned works and works from the museum’s collection, the eight works reflect the concept of record and memory to correspond with the identity of SeMA AA. 

The exhibition starts with Untitled (2018) by Chung Hyun, an artist who works on materials that have lost their original purpose over the years. On the third floor, along the staircase, Soyoung Chung’s Sailor (2023) visualizes the discontinuous trajectory of time by folding and unfolding aluminum panels. Another artwork on display is De-veloping-Silhouette Casting (1984 – 2010) by Hong Myung Seop, who dissolved the traditional sculptural strategy of casting or “enveloping” the form to fill in and instead developed a shape cut out from a flat surface. In the rooftop garden on the fourth floor, Kim In-kyum’s Emptiness moves between flat and solid surfaces depending on the viewing angle, and Hong Suk-ho’s An Iron Plate Fold (2000) unfolds a new space where planes meet by folding the sides of a steel plate and shows new experiments in sculpture that create three-dimensional shapes.

Partial exhibition view: "SeMA-Project A," the Art Archives, Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA AA), Seoul. Photo by LEE SEUNG YUL (이승열). Courtesy of the museum.

Artworks that pose questions about everyday landscapes and experiences are presented in the Learning Space and the Exchanging Space. Hwang Hae-sun’s The Balloons (2012) on the first floor of the Learning Space emphasizes a trivial scene in which one clutches an armful of balloons. Kim Hong-seok’s Stairs Construction–Podium (2011) casts common cardboard boxes in bronze to raise questions about the materiality of the work and challenge the symbolic meaning of being public. On the first floor of the Exchanging Space, Baettaragi (2010) by Koh San-keum changes the texts of a scene from Dong-in Kim’s novel with the same title using strings of beads to give a new perspective on our daily experience of reading texts, replacing letters with oral language.

Exhibition map of "SeMA-Project A," the Art Archives, Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA AA), Seoul. Courtesy of the museum.

The Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA), which claims to be a network museum, now operates eight branches and will add two more by 2024. 

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