Thursday, April 16, 2009

Episode 43: In Which DFM Sneaks Some Photgraphs Through The Bushes And Becomes A "Genius"

My Lonely Planet travel guide said that if I could only see one art gallery it should be the Leeum Art Museum.  The name Leeum comes from the name of the architect, Lee, and the suffix "-um" from museum. (Actually the name Lee does not exist in Korea, it's pronounced "Ee," and the L- is only added for Westerners who find it hard to imagine a culture other than their own)

I originally attempted to enjoy the art without one of these digital guides, but soon found that I couldn't tell the difference between one piece of green pottery and the next (called Celadon).  For an extra $2 I was given this Samsung PDA (fitting since Samsung sponsored the Leeum) and a sensor in the ground would inform the PDA what each piece of new art work was and I'd hear a voice tell me about it.  It was definitely worth the $2 because the digital guide pointed out many key points I would have missed and helped describe exactly why each piece of seemingly identical green pottery was so "fascinating."

The Leeum was divided into two sections.  One building featured traditional Korean art (four floors), and another building, connected by the main lobby, housed the modern, international and contemporary art (three floors).

The fourth floor of the traditional gallery had all of the Celadon pottery (the museum starts at the top and works its way down).  As I mentioned before, to the untrained eye (like mine) it just looked like a bunch of green pottery.  Of note was a Celadon pillow.  It's a hard, ceramic box that is used for sleeping on... yup.  The most impressive thing about this gallery is that the majority of the pieces in the collection were from the 12th and 13th century.  That pieces of pottery could survive in perfect or near perfect condition through three wars/occupations over 800 years is mind boggling to me.

The next floor had some sand-coloured pottery called Buncheong Ware and some blue and white porcelain.  It was nice to see some pieces that were less monochromatic, but still just a bunch of pottery if I'm honest.

The second floor featured some neat paintings, mostly of birds and flowers with ink, on giant vertical blinds.

The bottom floor had metal works, but I had seen most of these at the National Museum of Korea, so I rushed through this area.

Museum two was where I found the real interesting stuff.  Of course there were the obligatory paintings of anguish and sorrow by troubled artists who would later commit suicide, but for the most part I found some really interesting pieces by artists who are still alive.  

The highlight was a giant 15 foot long mirror with horizontal shelves filled with thousands of prescription pills  painstakingly arranged in a way so that they were all perfectly and evenly spaced.  It was supposed to be a comment on a society addicted to drugs.

I would definitely recommend the Leeum museum to any visitors, if only for the modern art museum, but make sure you get the digital guide or else you'll be done in under an hour and feel less than satisfied.

You might have noticed that there were no pictures of any of the artwork I mentioned above.  This is because photography was not allowed inside the galleries, but hat did not stop everyone else from trying.  I was pleased to see them get a talking to by some tall security guards in pink coats (they looked funny, but at least you could always find them).  The door knobs were interesting and were some of the few items we could photograph.

The stair well in the first museum was of a fascinating spiral design with slim vertical windows evenly spaced along the inside wall.

I thought this was just an interesting decoration on the wall, but I think it was actually one of the pieces of artwork.  I don't think I was supposed to photograph this, but I'm sure the artist won't starve any more than he would have for being an artist in the first place.

Up until now I thought that Itaewon was a giant dump.  And to be honest it still is, but just north of Itaewonno (the main street) is this amazing neighbourhood with fantastic houses.  I was drawn up a side street to look at this place and I found a special surprise.

This giant spider is part of a special collection of the Leeum Museum.  I wasn't allowed to see it before because it is only available by reservation on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  But, it's only guarded by a small hedge and I was able to snap a few pictures from the outside.  Very shortly after I took this picture I saw the pink coated security officers coming to tell me to stop,  so I played dumb and just walked away before they could get to me.

Today was also the day of the monthly climbing competition at Ace.  Here we are waiting around for Choi to make the teams and for stragglers to arrive.  Speaking of stragglers, I came in just before the competition was to start and Ji-Hyeun told me she had just finished telling everyone she was surprised I wasn't there.  I told her that I never miss a competition.

Since I easily won the last competition in the Experienced division, I decided to move up to the top category with the hardest routes.  I knew I would lose, but I agree with Robert Browning that a man's grasp should exceed his reach, and I feel that occasionally pushing myself to try routes outside of my current abilities will change my perceptions of what's possible and help me get better in the long run.

After the competition Choi set up a giant feast in the gym for everyone.  There were delicious Korean strawberries (the sweetest in the World, I think), pigs feet, dotorimuk - pine cone pudding (or as it was described to me, "pudding from the food of mountiain mice" - squirrels), rice cakes, and just about anything else you could imagine.  Ace Climbing Center is like one big family, and as you can tell from the pictures everyone had a lot of fun.

I showed off some of my improving Korean, and some of the members who had not met me before thought I must be some sort of genius.  It saddens me that so few foreigners take the time to learn Korean that the simple act of learning the Korean name for strawberry grants a person "genius" status.

I also took time to share with everyone the wonders of Sasuke.  One of my converts told me, "I cannot understand all the words you say, but I can feel your excitement, and now I want to see."

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