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Hongdae, Where the Wild Artists Are

August 15, 2010

Welcome to Hongdae — leave your inhibitions behind for this art tour extravaganza, because Hongdae can get a little messy. (I’m serious, though, don’t scroll down too fast if you are at work).

Hongdae’s art galleries are scattered all around the neighborhood (Hongik University being an art university),  and this post is going to approach it from both sides — from Hongik Station, line 2, out of exit 4, and from Sangsu Station, Line 6, exit 1. One of the first things you will stumble upon from the Hongik Uni exit after turning right, walking to the end of the street, and turning left, is the above concrete park, featuring the welcoming looking pair of faces at the top of the post and the lovely water fight featured just above.

Walk past a park and take a right down the street with a FamilyMart on it. This street is the artsy cafe road of the West side of Hongdae where you can find coffee, art, or sometimes both, as in the case of Ohoo, a gallery-cafe. In addition to having an interesting interior — a bit dark but certainly atmospheric — it features a small sample of work from local artists.

Some of the cafes you will find in the art have an artistic quality in their own right. Take, for example, the Berlin Kiss:

And, of course, as with most places in Hongdae, the ubiquitous fashion photography shoots of the Hongdae students are no less common on this side of town:

Now, time for some art. After walking for 4 blocks down the cafe street and turning left, you will eventually run into this majorly tall, concrete monster of a building, here pictured in a more manageable side:

The exhibit’s title was Hysteria and featured works by a number of Korean artists of diverse purpose, provenance, and provocation. Some seemed inspired by anime — Spirited Away and their anthropomorphic animals comes to mind:

Others by…. plumbing? Warning: it’s NSFW if you look at it long enough:

Still others by a more realistic touch — these are not photographs here but photorealistic paintings. At least one of which was inspired by drunken ajosshis:

Now, approaching from the Sangsu side of Hongdae (Sangsu St, line 6, exit 1), exit the station and turn around, then turn left down the road and walk for 4-5 blocks until you see a 7-11. Turn left down this street and you will see a fork in the road — keep right, go down two blocks and turn left (right after Gr8), then walk until you see this on your right:

Called the Design Museum outside, it actually calls itself Cafe Around on the inside, and includes both a cafe space replete with tucked-away artworks and curios that give the place an exotic feel:

The view upon first entering tells all, with the enormous light-emitting metal balls hanging in a cluster from the ceiling, the antique furniture and diverse array of retro chairs scattered throughout the capacious warehouse-like space, and the Pluto writing table standing inexplicably in the midst of it all:

After grabbing a coffee and ogling the many interesting desserts featured there (i.e. banana toffee pancake; green tea banana pancake with mango, caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream), I trekked off to a free performance art happening at the Seokgyo Art Center in the middle of Hongdae. Unfortunately the festival it was part of is now finished (the 9th Korea Experimental Art Festival) but it happens annually so check it out the next time it comes around — and check out some of the other festivals Hongdae has regularly.

This was the first thing I saw upon walking onto the roof where the performance was taking place. Just a dude tying balloons to a stepladder, right? And…. a pair of eggs hanging pendulously from that stepladder, being cooked by a blowtorch, and, lookie there, a pile of porn on the floor below it all (NSFW alert!)

It may be hard to see without zooming in (don’t feel compelled to), but after tying the balloons onto the stepladder, the artist drew in black marker words like ‘ambition’ on magazine pages of porn, tied them to the balloons, and proceeded to release them into the wind to be carried off around Hongdae to whoever might stumble upon them.

Satisfaction, indeed. I just wish I was there when the unsuspecting passers-by found these enigmatic messages from the heavens.

And, on the subject of enigmas, here’s a bikini-and-freaky-mask dance party that followed the porn balloon performance! Free shots for the bemused and the befuddled alike!

(Special thanks to Seoul Selection for granting me use of their excellent maps)

If you want a gallery map of Hongdae to find your way around (and to check out places not reviewed in this post), check out Cafe Ohoo where they give out such maps for free. Directions to Ohoo are up above. Also, the Tourist Information Kiosk gives out excellent maps that focuses more on clubs and galleries than the map above.

Go wild! Next post, a rather tamer art excursion to Heyri Art Village

This post was originally published at Painting the Passports Brown

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