Homes of painter, politician now public museums

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Homes of painter, politician now public museums


Left: The inside of the house of former President Choi Kyu-hah. Right: The two-story house was bought by the Korean government in 2009 and was turned into a public museum. [NEWSIS]

Choi Kyu-hah (1919-2006), the 10th president of the Republic of Korea, is famous for being president for just a very brief period, from December 1979 to August 1980. Less well known, however, is how Choi was also a lifelong diplomat who led a frugal life.

His house in Seogyo-dong in Mapo District, western Seoul, where he lived from 1973-76 and then in 1980 until he passed away in 2006, attests to that. It is filled with items that show Choi’s lifetime of thriftiness - a decades-old electric fan, a notepad made from cut-up old calendars and a patched mattress.

And now, anyone can explore Choi’s home, as the Seoul Metropolitan Government announced recently that after four years of restoration, it has opened the house to the public as a modern history museum on Oct. 5.

Since 2008, the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the Republic of Korea, the Seoul city government has been buying the residences of Korea’s former leaders, designating them as official cultural properties and refurbishing them for public viewing. These homes include the houses of Kim Koo (1876-1949), Chang Myon (1899-1966) and Yun Po-sun (1897-1990). The Seoul city government bought Choi’s home in 2009.

Upon entering the two-story house, it still looks so lived-in that one can easily feel like the owners of the house are just about to come out and greet the guests. All told, the house has about 500 items that Choi and his family members used.

At the entrance is an old shoe rack, holding shoes whose soles are worn through. In the living room, where Choi and his family members greeted guests, are ’80s-style curtains, a couch and a table. There’s an electric fan that Choi’s family bought in 1953 and used until 2006 and an air-conditioner bought in the ’70s.

Also notable is the large cupboard and table in the kitchen.


The house of renowned Korean painter Park No-soo is also now open to public as an art museum. Park is famous for leading the first generation of Korean painters after liberation from colonial rule. [JoongAng Ilbo]

“The kitchen was used only when guests came,” an official at the Seoul city government said. “When they were alone, Choi and his wife dined at a small table, instead.”

On the second floor is the former president’s study. On the desk is a notepad he made by cutting up an old calendar, as well as a pen he used during the important 1968 Korea-U.S. summit, when he was a diplomat. In the corner is a mattress that his wife, Hong Ki, patched up.

Choi became interim president after Park Chung Hee (1917-79) was assassinated in October 1979. He was officially elected president in December of that year, however, he was forced to step down in August 1980 after a military coup.

Choi’s home is not the only one recently opened that is worth checking out. In Jongno District, central Seoul, the house of Park No-soo (1927-2013), a renowned Korean painter who passed away in February, opened in September as a public art museum.

The Jongno District Office announced recently that the Ogin-dong house is holding its first art exhibition, where people can enjoy 26 of Park’s works, in addition to its usual collection of furniture and antiques and the garden Park tended to for many years.

The two-story house has an interesting history: It was built in 1938 by a pro-Japanese official of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) named Yun Deok-yeong (1873-1940). Yun built the luxurious house for his daughter after amassing much wealth from his pro-Japanese activities. The house features three fireplaces and heavy use of red pine, a wood known for its durability. However, the architectural style is a mix of traditional Korean, Chinese and Western, indicative of the chaotic times then.

Park purchased the house in 1973 and lived there until he died. It is ironic how the house of a pro-Japanese official became home to an artist famous for creating a new artistic identity for Korean traditional painters, who emerged after the country’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule (1910-45). In Park’s works, black ink combines with vivid colors, such as cobalt blue and deep yellow, in a way that rarely had been done before in traditional paintings.

“It’s an honor to be able to show my father’s work to more people,” Park’s daughter Lee Seon told the Korean media.

Lee has taken on the role of museum curator.

“We hope to exhibit more of his furniture in the future,” she said.

In 2011, Park’s family donated about 1,000 of Park’s artworks and possessions to the Jongno District Office, a move that prompted the office to push for transforming the house into a district office-operated art museum.

*The house of Choi Kyu-hah is open all year around, except New Year’s Day and Mondays. Visitors have to make reservations in advance and follow guides to ensure the protection of the artifacts.

For reservations, visit the Web site of the Seoul Metropolitan Government, Admission is free of charge.

The house of Park No-soo is open all year around, except New Year’s Day, Lunar New Year, Chuseok and Mondays. The inaugural exhibition runs until Dec. 25. Viewing is from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Only 20 people are allowed in at a time. Admission is free of charge.

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