For inspiration, look no further than these cafes

Unique hangouts offer a place to relax and leaf through art books

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Art books are displayed at Assouline Lounge in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul. The venue houses publications made by Assouline, established in Paris.
Art books are displayed at Assouline Lounge in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul. The venue houses publications made by Assouline, established in Paris.

In need of an inspiring place to plan out your New Year’s resolution? Some cafes in Korea offer innovative and creative art books so that visitors can be inspired to try new things.

Let your thoughts run free at the three cafes chosen by the JoongAng Sunday and find new passion and motivation to start the new year off fresh.

Assouline Lounge

The Assouline Lounge in Sinsa-dong, southern Seoul, is where visitors can really experience a French-style cafe and read magazines. Here, one can feed one’s creativity by browsing the publications by Assouline, as defining the essence of luxury is what put the magazine on the map. The cafe is named after the magazine Assouline, which was established by Prosper Assouline and his wife in Paris in 1994.

Many of the globally renowned luxury houses, such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Cartier and Christian Dior worked with Assouline to make their brand books, and a set of three books made from quilted leather is one of the many items that make a lasting impression. The book has been a steady seller despite the hefty price tag of 700,000 won ($597).

Right: Luxury house Chanel’s brand book is made of quilted leather, one of the commonly used materials for its bags. The book is priced at 700,000 won (597 dollar). Left: Another book contains images of a variety of high-end jewelry.
Right: Luxury house Chanel’s brand book is made of quilted leather, one of the commonly used materials for its bags. The book is priced at 700,000 won (597 dollar). Left: Another book contains images of a variety of high-end jewelry.

Besides publishing brand books for luxury goods makers, the company publishes 1,000 different kinds of arts books that feature contents on design, fashion, architecture, travel, food and more. The prices of each book vary. Some are more affordable at 39,000 won, while some of the limited editions go for over 1 million won.

Due to the artistic design of the books, many have opted to use Assouline’s magazine as interior design objects at home.

After feasting your eyes on the interior decor and books, it’s time to fill up your stomach. To celebrate its three-year anniversary since opening, the cafe hired a new chef who had previously worked at Joel Robuchon, a Michelin-three-star restaurant in Paris. The kitchen creates French cuisine with ingredients easily found in Korea, such as bean sprouts and burdock weed or wu-eong.

Cafe Tashen

Cafe Taschen houses many different publications by Taschen, which features many provocative contents in its books. Right: A photo of John Lennon with his wife, Ono Yoko, is shown in one of the books at the cafe.
Cafe Taschen houses many different publications by Taschen, which features many provocative contents in its books. Right: A photo of John Lennon with his wife, Ono Yoko, is shown in one of the books at the cafe.

This cafe features books and magazines published by Tashen, one of the most renowned art-book makers in the world. The company, established in Cologne in Germany in 1980 by Benedikt Taschen, not only provides interesting content but also makes magazines and books that deal with homosexuality, nudes and pornography, pushing the boundaries of what are defined as art books. Such progress was made under the company’s motto of “making beautifully designed, innovative art books.”

The publisher gained its popularity from making limited editions. The limited edition of Muhammad Ali’s collection of photographs, “GOAT (Greatest of All Time),” was recognized as the largest, heaviest and most brilliant books by Spiegel, a leading German magazine, in 2003. The company also printed 1,000 additional copies of books that contain the artwork of Jeff Koons and one of those copies sold for 10,000 euros (currently 12 million won or $10,900).

Cafe Tashen in Daehangno, central Seoul, is where one can find the books by this innovative company. It opened 11 years ago. The owner, Lee Sang-man of Maronie Books, started to import books from Taschen and opened the cafe as well so that readers can really experience the Taschen sentiment.

Soon after you walk out of Hyehwa station, line No. 4, exit 1 and pass by Dong Soong Art Center, you will see a piece made with LED lights by contemporary artist Julian Opie called “Sarah Walking.” When you open the door to the cafe, you will see another piece of Opie’s artwork called “Ruth Smoking.”

Cafe visitors can read the books freely and even take photos. The owner only requests that visitors be careful not to tear the books. The drink and food prices are reasonable, providing added incentive to spend hours in this cafe. Pasta dishes start from 12,000 won, and a glass of house wine is 5,000 won.

 

Mimesis Art Museum cafe

Mimesis Art Museum features many graphic novels and art books displayed along its walls. Right: The graphic novel “Asterios Polyp” is by American cartoonist David Mazzucchelli. [JOONGANG ILBO]
Mimesis Art Museum features many graphic novels and art books displayed along its walls. Right: The graphic novel “Asterios Polyp” is by American cartoonist David Mazzucchelli. [JOONGANG ILBO]

The museum first opened in 2009 as a place that not only introduces art books but also presents art exhibitions. Many of the walls are curved and white so that the inner space can enjoy as much natural light as possible. The exhibition hours also depend on the time of sunset each season.

Here, visitors can read a variety of art books made by Mimesis, which was established in 2005. The president said the company focuses on making books that can provide artistic inspiration. So the company focuses on diaries, memoirs, creation notes and essays written by many thinkers and artists instead of writings by critics in an attempt to better show the world of the artists and their beliefs. It has published books that include essays from Andy Warhol and many more.

The company also focuses on presenting graphic novels and collections of illustrations. Different in style from Japanese manga, European illustrations and graphic novels show a different artistic style depending on the message behind the pages. The company has so far published 70 different kinds of graphic novels.

On the first floor of the museum, there is a cafe and a shop. Visitors can pick out a book from bookshelves that follow the curves of the museum, and sip their drinks to enjoy the morning or afternoon while observing how the sunlight changes throughout the windows of the building.

BY SEO JUNG-MIN [summerlee@joongang.co.kr]