As the role and value of art libraries has grown, there has been an increase in the number of new art libraries opening. Four specialized art libraries have opened in Korea in recent years.
Museums, archives, and libraries are all cultural heritage institutions that play an important role in preserving and promoting knowledge and creativity. These institutions may have recognizably similar features, but they have different roles and professions due to the media they handle. Art museums focus on works important to art history, and libraries focus on books, and art archives on records deemed valuable in the field of art.
The role and value of libraries and archives in the visual arts are growing as much as those of museums, as exchanging and building information become more important than ever. In this article, we will introduce you to some of the new art libraries in Korea that have opened in recent years.
The Art Library of Uijeongbu was opened on November 29, 2019, as the first library in Korea to specialize in visual art. Before the Art Library of Uijeongbu was opened, in-house libraries in the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) or municipal art museums were the only places to access specialized art books. Many of these libraries are less accessible to the public, as they are often not well known or can only be visited by appointment.
The Art Library of Uijeongbu was established to provide a more open space for the public to browse specialized art books. As of April 2023, the library has collected approximately 50,000 books, more than 40% of which are art books, including the fields of art and design. Except for the rare books, anyone who visits the library can borrow the books and use the services of the library free of charge.
The library’s central space is open, but the three floors with different themes are organically connected by a central circular staircase. This is to convey the library’s keywords of “connection,” “convergence,” “openness,” and “communication” in the design of the space.
The theme of the first floor is “Art Ground,” a space where you can find books specializing in visual arts and publications from major art museums in Korea, as well as books on design and architecture. The library has a collection on the New Realism Group (신사실파, shinsasilpa), which played an important part in Korea’s modern art history as a group of Korean abstract artists whose works sought to represent the conceptualization of pure plasticism. The library has more than 500 rare materials related to the group.
The second floor of the library is the “General Ground” section, a reading area for all ages and themed books. This area is especially rich in children’s books. There is also a magazine section where visitors can browse periodicals on art and design and a Curation Zone where you can browse through books selected by the librarians.
The theme of the third floor is “Multi-Ground,” with a coffee shop, a multipurpose hall for various arts and culture programs, and an open creative space for artists. The third floor also has a donation zone with over 2,000 books donated by the Honolulu Museum of Art in Hawaii and books donated by RM, the leader of the K-pop group BTS.
The Art Library in the Gwacheon branch of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) reopened on February 13, 2023, with a redesigned space. The art library space was reorganized and transformed into a spacious reading room with bright light.
The Art Library first opened in 1981 at the Deoksugung branch and was moved to Gwacheon in 1986 with the opening of the Gwacheon branch. Since then, the MMCA’s Art Library has been collecting art books and related materials for 37 years and currently owns 52,800 books specializing in Korean and international art. More than 25,000 art books are available in the Art Library, and other special books are available upon request.
The MMCA’s Art Archive has art materials such as sketches, drawings, artists’ notes, photographs, letters and brochures of Korean modern and contemporary artists, as well as materials produced in connection with the museum’s activities, including exhibitions, education and research. Only the materials that have been organized by the museum are available to the public.
On February 14, 2023, one of the Seoul Museum of Art’s branches, Buk-Seoul Museum of Art, opened the Art Library to celebrate the branch’s 10th anniversary. The museum remodeled its existing art library and moved to a space six times larger on the third floor of its building.
Buk-Seoul Museum of Art’s Art Library has more than 10,000 art-related books. The library’s collection includes art books for culture and information, published series, and picture books that cater to a wide range of the public. In addition, the library has more than 2,500 exhibition catalogs, seminars, and biennial publications from specialized art institutions that are difficult to access in other libraries, as well as 1,500 exhibition catalogs and seminar materials from the Seoul Museum of Art. In particular, the library has more than 70 art books and independent publications that were presented at the Seoul Art Book Fair Unlimited Edition, the largest independent publishing event in Korea held at the Seoul Museum of Art.
Not only public art museums but also private companies have opened art-specialized libraries. Hyundai Card runs four libraries, respectively, specializing in design, travel, cooking, and music. Its fifth library is the Art Library, which opened in Itaewon in August 2022, featuring books and materials specializing in contemporary art.
The Hyundai Card Art Library has a collection of more than 6,000 rare books with art historical value. The collection includes artists’ books, which are created by artists and treated as works of art, 710 exhibition catalogs published by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) since its opening in 1929, 98 catalogs published by the Venice Biennale since 1895, and the complete collection of Parkett, an international magazine that was published in direct collaboration with important international artists until 2017.
To build its collection of books, Hyundai Card consulted with four book curators recognized for their expertise in the global contemporary art scene, including a curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the dean of the Städelschule for the Arts in Germany.