Leeum Samsung Art Gallery, Itaewon

The Leeum Samsung Gallery is situated atop a steep incline just off the main road about 150 metres from Hangangjin Station, which is next to the popular Itaewon Station – the foreign hub of Korea.

I was distracted by the upmarket houses in the area – some exhibiting bare industrial features with stark surfaces and minimalistic touches whilst others revealed a warm modern touch with face brick walls and wooden window frames and roofs. In comparison to the dreary apartment buildings or the traditional hanoks, they offered a variation in style. I was about to continue my search up the hill for the gallery, when to my left, I see the spiders that I had only glimpsed previously on a friends facebook album. Finally, my gaze held this vision, this gigantic spider –  enormous, awkward yet graceful, apocalyptic and stunning all at once.

Her massive metal legs stand, poised over the earth in a perfect position, as if she is ready to move at any moment, yet is cautiously standing her ground. I was utterly tranfixed by her presence, unearthly, primordial, even sinister. She just stands there elegantly, high above us, watching. An aura of some primal intelligence and ruthlessness can be felt as if she knows one movement of her steel legs could pin me to the ground and split me open. She is truly magnificent. Just next to her, is her smaller counterpart, not quite as tall or deadly, but exuding  an equal effect of intimidation. The spiders are just so out of place, here, on top of this hill, amidst these houses, in the ever conservative Korea, massive metal arachnids, ready to strike.

On later reading within the Art Gallery, I learnt that the artist designed the larger of the spiders as a female carrying her eggs beneath her inside a steel cage, and is testimony to her fierce maternal instincts, however, that her spindly legs serve to show how vulnerable she is. I clearly felt the protective instinct about her, feeling small and weak in comparison, however, I did not feel the sense of vulnerability that the artist hoped to convey.

Inside the Gallery itself, I found contemporary and modern art work that I did not feel an affinity for, its purpose lost on me. I found 2 pieces interesting, however, there is an eclectic array of artwork from photography to detailed sketches to large instillations of radios mounted on televisions sets with antenna peering from the sides that might delight you.

Part of the exhibition I did find moving and beautiful was the Buddhist art located in Museum 1 on the ground floor. A phenomenal ‘mini’ pagoda welcomes you as you enter, utterly mesmerizing with its many floors, personalities and tales all rising and telling a different story with its detailed engravings of pictures, people, deities that I do not understand, but leave a feeling of appreciation. Following the pagoda are various statues of sitting Buddha’s, the standing Buddha triad, Boddhisatva and my favourite, the pensive Maitreya.

I am amazed at the pristine condition of these very old artifacts, and utterly grateful they exist in Korea, having come from China and ultimately changing philosophy and religion in Korea. The artwork conjures the beautiful complexities and intricacies of Buddhism, a tradition of transcendence and divinity, compassion and love, embodied in this art and preserved for centuries and ready for our eyes to behold. I feel truly in awe as I leave this gallery and take to the streets of Itaewon to explore and wander, feeling inwardly quieter and more peaceful from this serene afternoon of beauty. I sincerely recommend a visit to this gallery and truly feel it has something to inspire you.

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