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Kansong Art Museum revisits its origins

By Park Yuna

Published : April 29, 2024 - 19:51

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An installation view of “Bohwagak 1938” at Kansong Art Museum in Seoul (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald) An installation view of “Bohwagak 1938” at Kansong Art Museum in Seoul (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

Kansong Art Museum, South Korea’s oldest private museum, will open in May with a return to its regular exhibition schedule after 10 years, unveiling a recently recovered archive that gives insight into how the museum was built 86 years ago by its founder Jeon Hyung-pil.

The exhibition “Bohwagak 1938,” scheduled to open on May 1, will feature a set of blueprints of the museum drawn by architect Park Kil-yong. The blueprints were found last year as the museum was undergoing restorations, according to the museum.

“The set of blueprints were found folded in an envelope. It took months to restore the images,” Jeon In-geon, director of the museum and grandson of its founder, told the press Monday.

“It will be hard to imagine for many people, but the storage was so compact and small that we could not grasp what artifacts we had at the time,” he said.

The relationship between Jeon Hyung-pil and Park Kil-yong, and the founder's requests to the architect are now known, he added.

The museum -- regarded as a fortress of Korean artifacts -- was founded by the wealthy merchant Jeon Hyung-pil, whose pen name was Kansong, in 1938. He collected Korean cultural artifacts during Japan’s 1910-45 colonial rule to protect Korean heritage from being taken out of the country by Japanese colonialists and built the museum during the colonial era.

A blueprint image of Bohwagak, Kansong Art Museum (Courtesy of the museum) A blueprint image of Bohwagak, Kansong Art Museum (Courtesy of the museum)

The museum has technically remained closed for the past 10 years as it became difficult to accommodate visitors in the aging facility, which led it to run exhibitions temporarily at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza from 2014 to 2019.

The museum separately built a new storage facility in 2022 and set about renovating the existing museum building, also called Bohwagak, that had been used both as an exhibition space and storage space. Bohwagak was opened temporarily to the public last year before renovations began.

A photograph shows Kansong Art Museum, or Bohwagak, built in 1938. (Courtesy of the museum) A photograph shows Kansong Art Museum, or Bohwagak, built in 1938. (Courtesy of the museum)

The museum regards the blueprints of the museum as the oldest extant modern architecture blueprints in Korea. The set of blueprints found also includes those of Jeon Hyung-pil's house, which was located behind the museum. The house was demolished after it was damaged in a fire during the Korean War (1950-1953), according to the museum.

“We are planning to push for registering the blueprints as state-designated artifacts. We will host a symposium late this year, gathering architects and experts to recognize how valuable they are,” said Kim Young-wook, chief curator at the museum.

The upcoming exhibition, which will run through June 16, includes founder Jeon’s hand-drawn images of wooden cabinets that he saw while visiting Osaka Museum in Japan.

“The exhibition will be free this time, although we have not decided whether the next regular exhibitions in spring and fall will require admission fees,” Jeon said.

Kansong Art Museum, located in Seongbuk-gu, Seoul, will open a regional branch in Daegu in September.