Namseoul Art Museum, located in Namhyeon-dong Gwanak-gu, Seoul, is an annex to the
Seoul Municipal Art Museum. Its official name is ‘Seoul Municipal Art Museum Namseoul
Annex.’ The old-fashioned, Western-style brick building stands independently, oblivious to the
crowded atmosphere of Sadang Station. First built in 1905 during the time of the Korean Empire,
the building used to be the property of the Belgian Consulate General in Korea, and was
registered as Historical Relic No. 254. It was originally located in Hoehyeon-dong, Junggu, but
it was transferred to and restored at its current location in 1982. When the Seoul Municipal
Art Museum was divided in 2004, it was finally opened to the public.
A Belgian Consulate General property in Korea during the Joseon Dynasty doesn’t sound right. At the time, we were still not very familiar with Belgium, though we became friends with Belgium at the beginning of the 20th century. At the end of the Joseon Dynasty, Korea’s sovereignty was as helpless as a candle light in front of a storm. The Korean Empire intended to become neutral by building an independent state among the Western powers that were fighting over a piece of meat. Thus, it formed a partnership with Belgium, which was another neutral state. Belgium was also a small country among many Western powers like Joseon, yet it remained independent, making the two countries destined to become allies. The value of the former Belgian Consulate General property in Korea must be judged not just by its beautiful exterior, but also by its historical context.
However, the building of the former Belgian Consulate General in Korea was not recognized for its historical value for a long time, and was dismantled
into pieces until it was relocated to a new site. Its meaning and value barely attracted
attention until it was moved to the south of the river and was made into an art museum. The
permanent exhibition, <The Former Belgian Consulate General Building in Korea that has
been Transformed into an Art Museum>, invites you to carefully observe its history. You can
imagine a moment in the past while looking at the old columns filled with the traces of time or
the old yet elaborately ornamented tiles. It was an unstable yet definitely passionate time, when
something was promoted and planned wholeheartedly.
Namseoul Art Museum is a neo-classical structure where one can view visually exquisite exhibitions. There are many quality exhibitions with no admission fees throughout the year, so you can enjoy the diverse works of local and international artists for free. I happened to come across the artworks of Basquiat and Hwan Ki Kim that blended so well with this quaint venue. The art pieces were fascinating to look at as I walked slowly around the shiny hardwood floors. The sound of the crowded world outside felt like an echo from a distance. There seems to be a special sense that perceives nothing but me and the space. A group of students can usually be spotted seriously observing the artworks while whispering to one another. Their liberal curiosity fills the air. Namseoul Art Museum also offers art classes and other special classes for children and young adults. I cannot wait to see its evolution as a humble garden of local artworks.