Toksu Palace in Seoul Offers Art Exhibitions

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Toksu Palace in Seoul Offers Art Exhibitions

We don't always need a grand setting to enjoy a weekend. Seoul has undergone many changes and is no longer a collection of cold, gray buildings. The lovely path between Toksu Palace and Chungdong Road is an excellent place to stroll, both for the path itself and for the exhibitions and activities close at hand.

Let's start at Toksu Palace, where the Impressionist and Modern Art Exhibition is showcasing masterpieces from the Musee d'Orsay in Paris and etchings from Spain's Goya Museum. The National Museum of Contemporary Art inside the palace is displaying works that most of us have seen only in books, such as Jean Millet's "The Angelus," Renoir's "Two Girls at the Piano," Monet's "La Gare Saint Lazare," Cezanne's "Objects on the Table" and another 70 works.

Tickets can be bought at the front gate. The bad news is that visitors will have to stand in line on weekends for an hour or two, then wait another 30 minutes to get into the exhibition. A piece of advice: It is very crowded in the afternoon, so try the morning. The entrance fee is 10,000 won ($8.90) for adults, 8,000 won for students and 6,000 won for children. The exhibition will be here until Feb. 27 and is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information call 02-501-9760.

"Goya: Mirror Display of His Face and Soul," which is on the third and fourth floors, will run until Jan. 28. Admission is free. The exhibition features woodcut prints by Francisco Goya (1746-1828), whose masterpiece is "The Naked Maja." About 160 of Goya's works are on display. But be warned. The works on view have many horrifying scenes of violence including shocking deaths at bullfights and human corpses cut into pieces, which might be too gory for some people.

For something a little less violent, go to Daehanmun, the front gate, where you can watch the changing of the guards between 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. The palace, including the gallery, is closed on Mondays.

The path along the right-hand side of the palace beside the stone wall is one of the city's best walking paths, according to a Seoul City public survey. The silence, the stone wall, the beautiful tall trees inside the palace grounds and the street lamps outside create an atmosphere of peace and serenity. Leave the world behind and feel autumn with your heart.

The path runs all the way from Daehanmun to the water fountain in the middle of Chungdong Street. Relax and enjoy the zelkova, gingko, apricot and persimmon trees. There are more than 250 trees in all to help you feel at peace.

Another path runs along the rear of the palace to Duksoo Elementary School and Salvation Army headquarters. This walk is also recommended - just ignore the strictly guarded home of the U.S. Ambassador on the other side, which can intrude on your sense of wellbeing.

Forget the bench. Instead, take a break at the Chungdong Theater, where the drama "Ogu" has been playing since Nov. 5. This traditional play, which stars the television celebrity Kang Bu-ja, features colorful versions of various human characters. The popularity of the play has been growing since its premiere in 1989. Tickets cost from 20,000 to 50,000 won. Call 02-773-8960. At the Todam teahouse inside the theater, try a drink of the slightly bitter shipjundaebotang (a hot drink made from a variety of herbs) or chrysanthemum tea.

If you go past the old Russian Legation, Yewon School and Saint Francisco Church, Chungdong Place comes into view, where the crazy kitchen-percussion group Nanta performs throughout the year at Nanta Theater. Call 02-739-8288.

There is a movie theater next to the palace that is showing five movies - "Siren," "Love of Siberia," "Story of Us," "Joint Security Area" and "Hamyun-dwenda." Call 02-2004-8000.

Feeling hungry? This area is a diner's paradise. The Brazil Barbecue and other restaurants are close by. Take the road toward Kyonghui Palace and you will soon come to two tempting places, Bis (02-722-0520) and Agio (02-720-1211). Both serve spaghetti dishes.

The Media City Seoul 2000 festival in nearby Kyonghui Palace Park has been extended until Tuesday (02-772-9847). The entrance fee has been cut from 10,000 won to 4,000 won. Students with ID cards get in free.

Another place worth a visit is the "Media Art 2000" display at the City Museum, where you can view works by Bill Viola, Bruce Nauman and others. Young people may find the "Media Entertainment" exhibition in Seoul Memorial Hall more to their taste.

When you have finished your tour, don't miss the newly restored Soongjang-jun building behind the art gallery. The place is almost empty, leaving you to enjoy some solitude.

by Cho Hyun-wook

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