Busan’s contemporary art scene might be less well known than that of Seoul, but it’s equally thriving. The city is home to international art events such as Art Busan and Busan International Art Fair, while attractions such as Gamcheon Culture Village draw thousands of visitors every year. With galleries all over the city, there’s no shortage of places to go — here’s your guide to the best places to see contemporary art in Busan.
An alternative arts space located on Ilgwang Mountain, OpenSpace Bae is a non-profit organisation founded by a group of local artists and activists in 2006. Although it’s quite far out of the city — approximately 25 minutes’ walk from Ilgwan Yeok — it’s well worth the visit if you have time. Check to see that it will be open before you go, as the gallery doesn’t always adhere to set hours. The remoteness of the location is deliberate, as the gallery aims to break free of the institutional mindset created by cities. OpenSpace Bae runs an international residency programme and a number of public art projects, which has led to the gallery’s growth as a hub of exciting artistic exchange. The name is tied to the gallery’s location — the Korean word baemeans (amongst other things) both ‘pear’ and ‘ship’, linking the space to the sea city of Busan and its specific location in a pear orchard. In this way, it resonates with the organisation’s desire to create contemporary art located in and contextualised by nature.
Busan Museum of Art is the city’s largest contemporary arts space. It’s free to enter, and shows work from some of Korea’s leading artists. Its five floors of gallery space span painting, sculpture and video installations (as well as a library and audiovisual centre), and there’s an outdoor sculpture garden at the museum’s entrance. A small shop on the ground floor sells arts-related gifts. The gallery is close to other tourist attractions such as Shinsaegae Centum City, Busan Cinema Centre, and BEXCO exhibition hall.
Soul Art Space is a small two-storey gallery located in Marine City, just behind Haeundae Yacht Club. It focuses on work by contemporary Korean artists such as Dukki Kim and Leenam Lee, and has also hosted prominent international artists such as Eva Armisen and Abbas Kiarostami. Exhibitions are tightly curated and often thought-provoking. The gallery regularly takes part in internationally renowned art fairs such as Art Miami and Art Seoul, and sometimes runs events such as forum discussions, workshops, film and music performances and artist talks. Soul Art Space began in 2005 in Guseo, at the venue now called Soul Art & Film Institute Lab. Its aim was to be a vitalizing force in Busan’s cultural life, and to promote and support Korean artists. The state-of-the-art gallery space at Marine City was opened in 2010, and provides an opportunity for visitors to enjoy both cutting-edge contemporary art and the area’s seafront beauty.
Originally located in Gwangalli Beach, the Johyun Gallery was founded by Jo Hyun in 1990, under the name Gallery World. It moved to Haeundae in 1999, and in 2007 moved to Dalmaji Hill’s arty hub where it is now one of Busan’s best-established commercial galleries. Johyun represents many well-known Korean and international contemporary artists such as Nam June Paik, Julian Opie and Georges Rousse, and presents carefully curated exhibitions of sculpture, painting, installation and design. The gallery recently opened a second location in Seoul, and has been expanding its international reputation.
This sleek, industrial-chic gallery is located in downtown Nampo-dong. Gallery 604 showcases work by various Korean and international artists — expect names such as Shim Moon Seup, Yoko Ukita, Zhang Xiaogang and Philippe Pasqua. The gallery spans two floors, and its exhibitions are small but perfectly formed. It sometimes runs events such as artist talks.
Another gallery located on hip Dalmaji Hill, idm Gallery shows a wide range of painting, sculpture and design. Expect work from Korean artists such as Kim Eok and Lee Hun Jeong, and international talents Patrick Bremer, Colin Brown and Ciara Phelan. The gallery also organises education events, tours, workshops and hosts some small-scale performances. idm prides itself on developing relationships with artists, collectors, national and international galleries and the public, and on promoting arts and culture within the city.
Gallery Woo showcases contemporary art across a variety of genres, including painting, sculpture and pottery. Established in 1990 in Seoul, the gallery moved to Busan in 2006, taking up residence in larger premises in Haeundae’s Grand Hotel in 2013. It’s one of Busan’s major commercial galleries and exhibits work by prominent Korean and international artists. It’s rarely busy but worth a look, especially if you’re staying in the Haeundae area.
Kim’s Art Field Museum is an interesting arts space located in the foothills of Geumjeong Mountain, to the north of the city. Originally the studio of Kim Jeong-myeong, professor at the College of Arts of Busan National University, it was opened as a museum of art in 2006. It showcases Kim’s work alongside a rotating roster of temporary exhibitions — recently, the museum has hosted Korean artists such as Park Jae Hyun and Sim Jeom Hwan. Entrance is free. The art space is also home to the annual Busan Sidewalk Chalk Art Contest.
Hidden away in an alleyway in the Jangjeon neighbourhood lies a graffiti-covered former kindergarten building, home to the city’s coolest underground artists’ collective. The Indie Culture Network — which grew out of the Funny Revenge art group — was established in 2003, and settled into IndieSpace AGIT in 2008. It’s a non-profit organisation that supports cultural events (including the Busan International Film Festival and Busan Biennale) and runs workshops, performance events and seminars. The arts space hosts a wide range of performances, exhibitions, gigs and parties, and there’s always something interesting going on. As well as its events programme, IndieSpace AGIT has a residential scheme for artists, and a recording studio for musicians.
Often called Busan’s ‘Lego Village’ or ‘Korea’s Santorini’, Gamcheon Culture Village is a kaleidoscope of brightly colored houses and strong artistic spirit. The village has been around since 1958, but the art is considerably newer; a project called Busan’s Machu Picchu began the process in 2009, and others followed. Now, murals and art pieces cover the walls of the whole village, and abandoned houses have been transformed into cultural spaces including exhibition spaces and galleries. Go on an art hunt through its twisting alleyways to find famous landmarks such as the Little Prince sculpture, explore its cafés and climb to the top to see colourful houses spilling down the hillside below. Just don’t forget your camera!
Officially registered as a museum in 2012 (although it began exhibiting much earlier, in 2007), Goeun was the first gallery in Busan to specialise in photography, and is still the city’s most important. The museum aims to enrich Busan’s cultural life through supporting new and emerging artists, building photography archives and showcasing work from the region in well-curated exhibitions. The modern building is not only a gallery, but also an art space that hosts workshops, talks and cultural events including music performances and academic seminars. Recent exhibitions have hosted prominent photographers from across the ASEAN region and Korea, including Young Sook Park, Sun Tag Noh, and Dae Soo Kim.