[VIEWPOINT]Why museum should relocateWhenever I pass by the Defense Security Command headquarters across from Gyeongbok Palace, I feel nauseated and feverish. If there were such a thing as a cultural doctor, he would have diagnosed me with “cultural atopy.” I am allergic to the buildings built by imperial Japan, which destroyed the history and tradition of Korea during the occupation.
The site has been through many changes throughout a turbulent modern history, having housed the Defense Security Command, the symbol of the military autocracy. However, the neighborhood is also a jewel box full of the traces of 600 years of Korean history.
These days, Korea is busy getting a makeover to rediscover its identity. With the restorations of the Cheongyecheon stream and Gyeongbok Palace, the face of Seoul has begun to have more distinct features of its historic identity.
But at this time, we are missing reinforcements in our cultural identity. The most urgent task is the relocation of the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Gwacheon. In the old days, a trip to Gwacheon took a long time because people rode palanquins. But even today, it can take hours to get there by car because of Seoul’s notorious traffic.
One visitor, Peter, a professor of museum studies visiting from Holland, had to take the subway for 50 minutes with two transfers, waited 10 minutes for a shuttle and rode the shuttle for another 10 minutes only to look around the museum for a couple hours. Upon returning to his hotel, he collapsed into his bed from fatigue.
He’s not the only visitor to do so. A few years ago, a Japanese artist who hosted an exhibition there suffered from physical and mental fatigue as only a few visitors showed up.
The museum’s galleries, which should be packed with art lovers, have long been deathly quiet because of the ever-diminishing number of visitors. It is hard to find any other national museum secluded in the mountains some 100 miles away from downtown like the National Museum of Contemporary Art.
Even though only a few art museums serve the population of 48 million, the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is the biggest, is half asleep because of its inconvenient location. Doesn’t the museum deserve to take over the home of the Defense Security Command, which is moving out soon?
Putting the National Museum of Contemporary Art in the heart of the capital, which exudes history and tradition, would make for an exquisite combination that would create a cultural masterpiece at its best.
Moreover, tourists can cover ancient palaces such as Changdeok Palace, Jongmyo royal shrine and Deoksu Palace, together with the National Folk Museum, the culturally lively neighborhood of Insa-dong and Dongsung-dong and the Namdaemun and Dongdaemun markets in one day. The relocation of the art museum would make the cultural city tour package more complete. If you go around the Defense Security Command headquarters, you can stroll down the networks of alleys lined with traditional houses, charming shops and private museums.
As we have entered the 21st century, many countries have gotten busy restoring their cultural assets. Moreover, a new group of “cultural hunters” go around the world, visiting cities with cultural jewels.
General tourists and large-scale investments follow the footsteps of these cultural hunters. New York, London, Paris, Madrid and Tokyo have long been in their black books, and the small Spanish city of Bilbao recently made the list with its Guggenheim Museum alone. What the cultural hunters are desperately searching for is a similarly unique city in Asia.
Moving the Museum of Contemporary Art to downtown will not only attract these cultural hunters but also quench the cultural thirst of the Seoul citizens, who have been deprived of such a facility.
What about making the existing museum in Gwacheon and the new one in Seoul sister museums? The museum in Gwacheon could be a special venue in conjunction with the mountain and amusement park in the area while the new museum in Seoul specializes in modern art.
The Tate Modern, which is housed in a remodeled thermoelectric power plant, and Tate Britain are must-see attractions in London. When you see the older museum, you must see the younger sibling, so the sisterhood of the two museums could bring an effortless synergy effect to attract art fans.
* The writer, a poet and essayist, is the direct of the World Jewelry Museum. Translation by the JoongAng Ilbo staff.
by Lee Gang-won