Historic Kansong Art Museum reopens fully after decade-long closure

The Kansong Art Museum, known as Korea’s oldest private institution that boasts a historic collection of over 16,000 cultural artifacts, is reopening its Bohwagak venue in Seongbuk District, northeastern Seoul, in May with an archival exhibition, 'Bohwagak 1938,' after a 19-month renovation. Yonhap

The Kansong Art Museum — recognized as Korea’s oldest private cultural institution with a historic collection of over 16,000 artifacts, including an array of state-designated national treasures — is reopening its Bohwagak venue in Seongbuk District, northeastern Seoul, in May following a 19-month renovation.This marks the institution’s official return to full operations after a decade-long closure due to challenges in accommodating visitors in its aging facility.The museum was founded in 1938 by Chun Hyung-pil (1906–62), an affluent philanthropist known by the pen name Kansong who dedicated his fortune to collecting and preserving the country’s relics during the 1910–45 Japanese colonial era. Since 1971, it has hosted biannual exhibitions of its artifacts free of charge. Each show lasted only two weeks due to space constraints and displaying conditions. As a result, every spring and autumn, throngs of visitors would form long lines outside the building, eager to catch a glimpse of treasures such as the 15th-century Hangeul handbook called “Hunminjeongeum Haeryebon” and Joseon-era painter Shin Yun-bok’s iconic “Portrait of a Beauty.”Then came 2014, when its old and dated venue went dormant, with all subsequent shows for the next five years being temporarily displayed at Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) in central Seoul instead.

In 2022, the Kansong Art Museum unveiled its newly built storage space and conservation laboratory as part of its vision to start a new chapter with more up-to-date operations. It also announced plans to extensively renovate the original Bohwagak building, aiming to transform it into a more accessible and modern exhibition hall. To commemorate the grand reopening, the archival show, “Bohwagak 1938,” has been put on view, tracing the founding history of the museum through a never-before-seen set of blueprints and Chun’s handwritten ledgers.Discovered among the stacks of enveloped documents during the building’s restoration, the blueprints — some of the oldest surviving of their kind in the country — were drawn and designed by Korea’s first-generation architect Park Kil-yong (1898–1943).Displayed in rows of vitrines on the first floor, these documents offer insights into every aspect of the structure envisioned 86 years ago, including its off-white, Bauhaus-style facade with a whimsically asymmetrical touch. Also newly unveiled to the public are the founder’s 1930s ledgers, which meticulously record each artifact’s purchase history and expenses incurred during the museum’s establishment.Alongside these archival texts are a variety of Joseon-era “seohwa” paintings and calligraphic works from the Kansong collection, 36 of which have been put on view for the first time.These include the 19th-century “Baekimdang Pungsok Hwacheop,” an album of folk genre paintings crafted by court artist Baek Eun-bae; “Landscape with Trains” (1888), the oldest drawing of an American landscape by Korean artist Kang Jin-hui; and the butterfly brushworks of painter Goh Jin-seung, 슬롯놀이터 which, until now, were only documented in text.

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