Traveling curator takes you around block
By Noh Hyun-gi
“He is the artist!” gasped Jang You-jung when the group of six walked into Arario Seoul, a gallery in Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul.
No one would have recognized Lee Jin-young, 51, a realist painter, had it not been for the “traveling curator” Jang. She asked Lee to talk to the group about his work on display at “Time Collected,” and he gladly obliged.
A serendipitous conversation with an artist is not the only perk in participating in Art Walk. The program takes a small group of people on a three-hour stroll around art saturated neighborhoods of Seoul such as Apgujeong-dong, Sagan-dong and Bukchon every Friday and Saturday.
Jang is an independent curator with five years of experience who started this project in 2011. She leads the way and speaks not only about the works but just about anything behind the scenes — how certain galleries operate globally, the ins and outs of the art trends, as well as which galleries have become too commercial.
“I wanted to make art more accessible,” she explained her motivation. She encourages participants to chip in their thoughts. “I try hard so that it’s not a series of docents,” she added.
These walks are not just for individuals who want to dip their toes into the art scene. When this reporter tagged along in March, two strollers were looking for ways to spread the creativity. Hong Na-li, assistant manager of education department at Metrocity, signed up to see if she could incorporate this into the fashion brand’s training program. “My supervisor actually recommended this. I think this is a great opportunity for our employees to get inspiration from art work and meet people outside the firm. Most importantly, I had no idea there were so many galleries near our office (Cheongdam-dong); so our staff can participate during a lunch break,” Hong said. Indeed, when she saw sculptor Choi Ki-seok’s steel column at Gallery 2, she exclaimed “these marks on the columns look like the patterns on our bag!” Now, Hong’s team is collaborating with Jang to invite Metrocity hires on the walks starting this May.
Another participant, Kim Moon-sun wanted to help job seekers by introducing them to the program. She helps college seniors with their job applications and prepares them for interviews at Elite Korea, a human resources consultancy. “With the market performing so poorly, many of my students are discouraged. I think this program can be a great refresher,” Kim said.
Fortunately, many art institutions are eager to support Art Walk. Songeun Art Space offered a private docent, complimentary beverages and its seminar room for post-walk discussions. A curator at the museum said she found Jang’s project an exceptional chance to learn about the ecosystem of the art industry in Seoul. “Even just here in Cheongdam-dong, there are many sales-driven spaces that are experiencing changes due to fluctuations in the market,” she explained.
Jang entered the venture competition organized by Seoul Foundation for Arts and Culture last year. A Lab, which is Jang’s project, offers Art Walks as well as classes for the public and was chosen as one of eight finalists.
“I was always disheartened by this wall that separates the public and art. Most people don’t’ even know that galleries don’t charge entrance fees.” She was a curator at Amore Pacific Museum and Wellside Gallery in Seoul. Then she moved to Wellside Gallery in Shanghai to serve as an art director. “I was quite surprised at how unknown Korean art was — so ultimately I want to contribute to introducing local artists to the international audience,” she said. Jang is contacting travel agencies to tailor the Art Walks for foreigners. She also has two part-time curators who can offer English and Japanese tours.
The programs vary depending on exhibitions. One can sign up online (www. seoulartlab.com) or by phone (070-4397-2359).