Korea welcomes the beginning of its longest public holiday in six years this week, and the opportunity has opened up for people to catch up on all the exhibitions and cultural events they haven’t been able to get to.
This year’s Chuseok holiday vacation starts on Sept. 28 and lasts through Oct. 3. Originally a four-day break, it was extended to six days after the government designated Oct. 2 as a one-time, extra day off, essentially connecting the Chuseok break with National Foundation Day, which falls on Oct. 3.
Ranging from art exhibitions at major museums to permanent exhibits on the traditions and history of Korea, the places to go throughout the country are plentiful. Museums and galleries are offering special discounts and events for the holiday, while the government is also pitching in with discounts to lodgings throughout the country.
The following is a list of exhibits, film releases, traditional Chuseok events and performances to check out during the Chuseok holidays, recommended by the Korea JoongAng Daily.
Art is all around
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY ART
All branches of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) — in Seoul, Deoksu Palace, Gwacheon and Cheongju — will be open to visitors for free from Sept. 28 to 30.
The Gwacheon branch in Gyeonggi recently kicked off a textile craft exhibition titled “Lee ShinJa, Threadscapes” shedding light on the 93-year-old fiber artist whose works gave birth to the idea of fusing threadwork with art and using tapestry as a means to express both abstract and figurative art, starting in the 1950s.
Lee Shin-ja, born in 1930, is a first-generation artist whose works were shunned from her contemporaries who saw her threads as her having wrongly dreamt of escaping the realm of women’s handiwork to join the more “sophisticated” world of art dominated by men. She started by using thread to draw on a canvas or a leather screen then moved onto weaving large-scale tapestries of various shapes and sizes.
“People mocked me and asked me whether I had made my work with my feet,” Lee told the press in a tour of her exhibition held earlier this month. “They told me that I was an imbecile who knew nothing. But they were right in a way because the only reason I could do what I did was because I wasn’t properly educated, so I could try whatever I wanted to.”
Some 90 pieces of Lee’s works are on display along with 30 archival pieces ranging from Lee’s work sketches and related pictures. Work donated by the son of traditional eastern art collector Dongsan Park Joo-hwan (1929-2020) is also on display at the Gwhacheon branch, under the title “Strolling through Nature,” along with media artist Nam June Paik’s large-scale media artwork “The More, The Better” (1988).
At the MMCA’s Seoul branch is a solo exhibition by media artist Jung Yeon-doo, held as part of the “MMCA Hyundai Motor Series 2023.” The video-and-installation exhibition on Mexican diaspora is joined in the museum by a retrospective of one of Korea’s most respected modern artists, Chang Ucchin (1917-1990) titled “The Most Honest Confession: Chang Ucchin Retrospective.”
Information regarding the exhibitions at each branch can be found on the MMCA website.
SEOUL MUSEUM OF CRAFT ART
Korea has a lively craft culture, the range of which goes beyond the common pottery, glassware, textile art and woodworks. The latest exhibit ongoing at the Seoul Museum of Craft Art (SeMoCA) in Jongno District, central Seoul, showcases relatively lesser-known genres by artists in different fields.
“Craft Dialogue” is largely divided into three parts: buncheong (gray-blue powdered celadon), geumbak (gold leaf imprinting) and chaehwa (royal silk flower). Each section is covered by two artists or teams.
Buncheong is a transitional type of ceramics that existed between the cheongja (green celadon porcelain) of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) and the baekja (white porcelain) of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Its popularity was short-lived and lasted roughly 200 years, from the late 14th century to mid-16th century, and was mass-produced, unlike its fancier counterparts.
On view is ceramist Lee Kang-hyo’s contemporary buncheong pieces in the form of landscapes and artist Kim Heryun’s version on canvas, which uses meok (traditional East Asian black ink).
Geumbak, made from delicately hammering thin sheets of gold foil onto surfaces like royal robes, has traditionally been a symbol of social status and power. Kim Gi-ho, a master artisan designated as a national intangible cultural asset himself, portrayed the gold as stars on a sheer, dark sheet of gauze, based on a Joseon-era constellation chart. Textile artist Chang Yeon-soon integrated the geumbak technique into a blue synthetic mesh used in cookware.
Chaehwa was also enjoyed by the aristocrats as never-wilting flower replicas that were used for decorations. The craft is so delicate and realistic that legend says that even bees and butterflies mistook the chaehwa for actual flowers. Chaehwa became all but a discontinued practice for some 100 years until artisan Hwang Su-ro, also a national intangible cultural asset, revived the tradition. The Royal Silk Flower Seoul Lab, a research center dedicated to the craft, recreated a tree installation filled with thousands of chaehwa flowers, also on display.
The exhibit is equipped with tablets that provide information on the history and technique of each craft, which are also available in English. “Craft Dialogue” continues until Nov. 12.
SeMoCA is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day except Mondays. The exhibit is free.
SEOUL MEDIACITY BIENNALE
Art tends to project artists’ conceptions of the contemporary world, and the Seoul Mediacity Biennale has bundled these thoughts all together. Through exploring a diverse range of genres including videos, sculptures and textiles, this edition is centered on connecting all five of its venues “like a map.”
Titled “This Too, Is a Map,” the biennale “wanted to use media as material to better understand the global dynamics today,” according to artistic director Rachael Rakes earlier this month at the Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA) main venue in Jung District, central Seoul. Such dynamics include the stories of diaspora and consumerism.
“It’s not just about rehearsing those topics and problems, but weaving them together into an idea of contemporary reality,” Rakes said, which is why she settled on the core theme of a map. “It’s about rethinking what’s happening in our world right now rather than providing solutions or highlighting a problem.”
Korean artist Choi Chan-sook’s media artwork “The Tumble” is one of five commissioned pieces for this biennale, which questions the issue of land ownership through the analogy of the lifespan of a tumbleweed.
Choi was the winner of the Korea Artist Prize 2021, organized by the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.
In addition to the main exhibition at SeMA, the biennale is also held at the Seoul Museum of History, Seoullo Media Canvas, SeMA Bunker and the SpaceMM and Sogong Space galleries.
“This Too, Is a Map” continues until Nov. 19. For more information on the opening hours for all venues, visit mediacityseoul.kr.
DONGDAEMUN DESIGN PLAZA
The Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) is one of Seoul’s attractions most associated with the trendiest K-pop artists who rock the catwalk of the gigantic silver establishment twice every year for Seoul Fashion Week.
The 2024 Spring/Summer season may have ended, but there’s still a chance to see K-pop fused with fashion and art at the DDP, where “the secret to K-pop’s success” will open up to visitors in a design-meets-music exhibition titled “Design Dream Land: Fall in K-pop,” which will run until April next year.
The exhibition is a chance for K-pop lovers to figuratively walk into a song — to see with their eyes the auditory elements that give the dreamy depth to their favorite K-pop songs. Four sections of the third floor of DDP’s Design Lab have been turned into a surreal world in which four K-pop songs are portrayed.
The four songs are four of SM Entertainment artists’ most loved songs: aespa’s “Dreams Come True” (2022), EXO’s “Obsession” (2019), NCT’s “Kick It” (2020) and Girls’ Generation’s “Forever 1” (2022). Artists Shin Morae, Shinkiru, Hong Won-pyo and Xohee have taken part in creating their very own interpretations of the songs that have been displayed to make the “Design Dream Land,” along with fashion design brand Sun Woo.
A media art exhibition titled “LUX: Poetic Resolution” is taking place at the Museum Exhibition Hall 2 of the DDP.
The exhibition started in London in 2021 with 12 teams of contemporary media artists coming up with 16 pieces of work that have been created with the aim of pushing the idea of art to its limit. It is set to travel to other cities after the Seoul run comes to its close at the end of December.
Other exhibitions such as “We’d rather be alive than dead,” a comprehensive design event, and “Alphonse Mucha eMotion in Seoul” are also taking place. Tickets and dates for each exhibit varies and be checked out at the ddp.or.kr.
SEOUL ARTS CENTER
Shifting to the southern part of Seoul, visitors can enjoy the arts and performances at the Seoul Arts Center (SAC) in Seocho District.
Artist Baek Hee-na, best known as an illustrator and animator for children’s books, is holding her first solo exhibition at SAC’s Hangaram Design Museum. Baek became the first Korean to ever win the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, an international children’s literary award, in 2020.
The exhibition has the same miniature props on display that Baek had crafted for her books like “Cloud Bread” (2004) and “Magic Candies” (2017). The pieces were arranged at the eye-level of a child.
Baek’s show continues until Oct. 8. The Hangaram Design Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day except Mondays.
For anyone unable to visit in person, the SAC is also screening popular past performances on its SAC on Screen YouTube channel during the Chuseok holidays.
It will livestream performances of Antonin Dvorak’s New World Symphony, the play “Come Back” and the ballet performance “La Bayadère” on www.youtube.com/c/SAConScreen every day during the Chuseok holidays at 2 p.m.
Want some traditional experience?
With Mount Bukak as its backdrop, the public will have the opportunity this year to enjoy Korean traditional performances during the Chuseok holidays from inside the Blue House while embracing the fall vibes.
The Korea Cultural Heritage Foundation’s Performance Arts Group will perform an array of Korean traditional performances featuring gilnori (street parades), obukchum (barrel drum performance), folk songs from the Gyeonggi region, buchaechum (fan dance) and gijeobnori (folk game between villages using flags) from Oct. 1 to 3 at 11 a.m. at the former presidential office’s heliport.
Three different groups will each perform at 2 p.m. during the same three days at the heliport. On Oct. 1, a crossover gugak gayo (pop version of Korean traditional music) band AUX will hold a concert of folk songs including Arirang from Miryang, Taepyeongga (a song produced during the Japanese colonial era), and Poongnyeonga (a song wishing for a good harvest). A talchum (mask dance) performance group, the Greatest Masque, known for inviting audience members onto the stage, will perform on Oct. 2, followed by The Gwangdae the next day, which will perform gugak (Korean traditional music) based on pungmulnori (Korean traditional instrument playing), masked lion dances and beonanori (Korean traditional game of spinning a wheel with a wooden stick).
From Sept. 28 to 30, the heliport will be turned into a large game zone, inviting visitors to play traditional games like tuo (a game where players try to throw sticks into a jar), yut (a board game) and jegichagi (a game where competitors try to kick each a sack while hopping).
There will also be a zone where visitors can have a go at making traditional handcrafts such as a traditional paengi (top) to spin and a traditional Korean fan.
The performances are open to the public for free. In the case of rain, some activities and performances may be canceled. Check the Blue House website for updates or call 1522-7760.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF KOREA
At the Open Plaza of the National Museum of Korea in central Seoul, an array of traditional Korean performances will be presented for the public for free during the Chuseok holidays from Sept. 28 to Oct. 3, except on Sept. 29 when the museum will be closed.
Traditional performances like namsadangnori (traditional folk performance), ganggangsullae (Circle Dance), nongak (farmer’s performance), cheoyongmu (human face mask performance), Gangneung danoje (Dano Festival of Gangneung), pansori (traditional musical storytelling performance), minyo (folk song), a performance about haenyeo (women divers) culture and talcum will be shown by different troupes at either 1 p.m. or 4 p.m. depending on the day of the performance.
From Sept. 28 to Oct. 9, visitors to the museum can also enjoy the museum’s special exhibit “Companions on the Eternal Journey: Earthenware Figurines and Vessels from Ancient Korea” for free. Some 330 pieces are on display, including 15 state-designated national treasures and 97 earthen vessels decorated with clay figurines that were excavated in Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang, during the Japanese occupation of Korea. The latter pieces are being shown to the public for the first time. The belief in an afterlife is further reflected in figurative pottery that took the shape of birds, horses, horns and houses. These were regarded as companions accompanying the deceased to heaven, where they would continue their lives, and birds in particular were deemed holy creatures.
The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day and until 9 p.m. on Saturday. The museum will be closed on Sept. 29. For more information, visit the museum’s website.
NATIONAL FOLK MUSEUM OF KOREA
The “Bountiful Harvest Celebration” will run for three days on Sept. 28, 30 and Oct. 1 at the National Folk Museum of Korea in central Seoul.
To highlight the meaning of Chuseok, which was derived from gabae (a cloth weaving game played by women during the Silla Kingdom on a mid-autumn day) Geochang sambae (hemp cloth weaving), an Intangible Cultural Heritage of South Gyeongsang, will be demonstrated. Visitors can also watch the process of weaving fabric on a loom.
Those who are into wrestling can go over to the corner for the Hangawi Ssireum Competition and get ready to fasten their satba (thigh band). Participants will be able to learn simple wrestling skills in this zone, co-hosted by the Korea Ssireum Association. Amateur ssireum (traditional Korean wrestling) competitions for children will also be organized.
Various experience programs are also prepared, titled “70s and 80s, Streets of Memories.” Visitors can even get a haircut in the 70s or 80s style at the Hwagae Barber Shop, which looks exactly like the one that used to exist in the backstreets of Jongno District in central Seoul. At a teahouse in this zone, there will be a DJ playing old folk songs, and a popular Korean-style coffee created by mixing two teaspoons of coffee, sugar and cream will be served.
Inside the Children’s Museum, an array of programs for kids are also prepared. Young participants can experience the rice polishing process of reaping, filtering dry leaves, and threshing by using unfamiliar farming tools like a threshing comb, thresher, winnowing basket and large wood mortar. Children can express their gratitude for the first harvest by experiencing olgesimni (a custom of hanging the first harvest of rice on the house) and making oryeo songpyeon, a rice cake made from newly harvested rice.
The museum opens from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. except on Sept. 29 when the museum is closed. For more information, visit the museum’s website.
NATIONAL THEATER OF KOREA
At the Daloreum Theater, visitors will be able to enjoy a pansori performance “Simcheongga,” which began showing on Sept. 26 and will run until Oct. 1. The show is based on Simcheongjeon (The tale of Simcheong), one of the five surviving traditional Korean storytelling performances.
Ahn Sook-sun, a veteran pansori singer, will perform the renowned pansori.
“Simcheongga” is well known for its moral of being devoted to one’s parent. Simcheong, the daughter of Sim Hak-gyu, sacrifices and throws herself into the Indang Sea in order to give her father his sight back. She later gets resurrected for being a dutiful daughter, and her father regains his sight.
The performance is scheduled 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday, and 3 p.m. on Thursday through Sunday.
Tickets range from 20,000 won to 50,000 won. Tickets are available at the National Theater of Korea site.
New releases hitting the silver screen for the holidays
Three big commercial films are competing to grab audiences’ attention during the Chuseok holidays, with smaller films also throwing down their gauntlet to vie for box office success.
Megabox is holding promotional events, offering discounts for theater tickets on the day of Chuseok, which is Sept. 29, and Oct. 3, for screenings at Dolby cinemas at six Megabox branches. A “Mega-draw” event will also be held, where theater ticket buyers can cast ballots to win brand new television sets, Apple earbuds, theater passes and more. Visit Megabox’s homepage for more information.
ROAD TO BOSTON
Based on the real-life story of Suh Yun-bok, a Korean marathoner who won the 1947 Boston Marathon just two years after Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule, “Road to Boston” stars Yim Si-wan and Ha Jung-woo. Yim and Ha have both been building up a strong filmography in recent years, with both actors having appeared in three films just this year. In “Road to Boston,” Yim plays Suh while Ha plays Sohn Kee-chung, Suh’s coach and the winner of the 1936 Berlin Olympics marathon. As a historical drama that’s centered more on a figure instead of an event, and much less heavy than other period films, “Road to Boston” is a good choice to watch some refreshing running and feel a sense of patriotism.
A film about films, “Cobweb” is auteur Kim Jee-woon’s latest work that was invited to the Cannes International Film Festival this year. Song Kang-ho of “Parasite” (2019) plays a film director named Kim Yeol, who is obsessed with reshooting the ending of his upcoming film and gets into conflicts with his colleagues during the process. A dark comedy with plenty of references and homages to Korean filmmaking of the ’70s, audiences who enjoy a smart and challenging feature will love “Cobweb.” Oh Jung-se, Im Soo-jung, Jeon Yeo-been and Krystal Jung play supporting roles.
DR. CHEON AND LAST TALISMAN
If neither historical dramas nor dark comedies are quite your cup of tea, you could check out “Dr. Cheon and Last Talisman,” a family-friendly fantasy film that is lighthearted and very approachable. Gang Dong-won, who is known for hitting home runs with any role in which he appears in uniform, returns in an exorcist’s getup as Dr. Cheon, a skeptic YouTuber who sells his services of ridding of ghosts but does not believe in ghosts himself. Gang recently said that “Dr. Cheon and Last Talisman” was made with the Chuseok holidays in mind, so this flick will be well fit for the holiday spirit and is a good choice for a movie with the whole family.
BY CULTURE DESK [firstname.lastname@example.org]