Offering everything from art museums and smaller galleries to film festivals and full-blown culture villages, Busan in South Korea has gradually come into its own as an art force to be reckoned with
‘We, on the rising wave’ was the slogan for the 2022 edition of the Busan Biennale. It’s an apt introduction to both the festival and the city itself, given the fact that Busan’s art scene is booming. Long revered for the Busan International Film Festival (4-13 October 2023), the city’s investment in its contemporary art scene now means the art world’s interest in Busan rivals its northerly sibling, Seoul.
International fairs such as Art Busan (12-14 May 2023) have also helped, as have major spaces like Busan Museum of Art. But the city is home to buzzy independent art galleries, too, and neighbourhoods that capture its unique creative spirit. Here’s where to find it.
1. Busan Museum of Art
Free to enter, five-storey Busan Museum of Art in Haeundae is the city’s largest contemporary arts space and has an impressive permanent collection of South Korean art, a beautiful sculpture garden, and hosts regular exhibitions by major international artists. Right now, it hosts a large-scale, multimedia retrospective of Japanese artist Takasi Murakami (until 12 March).
Set on Eulsukdo Island, a city-centre nature reserve known for its birdwatching, Museum of Contemporary Art, Busan, is the city’s other major space, and is the main site for the Busan Biennale.
2. Johyun Gallery
Based in a leafy enclave of Haeundae district (not far from the beach), Johyun Gallery is one of the most revered commercial galleries in Busan. It’s well known on the international art circuit for introducing contemporary South Korean artists such as painters Kang Kang Hoon and Kim Chong-hak to the world, with its regular attendance at the global art fairs.
Set in Dalmaji hill, it’s also a beautiful, serene space, with a small garden and rooftop cafe with views of the sea. Definitely plan to linger.
A former factory turned arts space, F1963 is huge and hosts a mix of art exhibitions at Kukje Gallery, film screenings, talks and performing arts events. Check the website to see what’s on or come just to check out the epic architecture and surely one of the most beautiful bookstores in South Korea.
There’s also a very cool cafe on site, as well as a farm-to-table restaurant with dazzling night views of the city from an open-air rooftop.
4. Museum 1
Close to Busan Cinema Center, this large, hangar-like space is a gallery but not as you know it: expect a dazzling, immersive digital-art extravaganza that uses animation to allow you to participate in a psychedelic light-and-sound show. Popular with families, Museum 1 makes a fun alternative to the quiet seriousness of more high-brow art galleries.
5. Gamcheon Culture Village
Easily one of Busan’s most distinct neighbourhoods, Gamcheon Culture Village was once a slum that has been transformed into what has been dubbed ‘Santorini in Korea’ on account of its colourful, mountain-set houses and sea views (and its long-abiding popularity with Instagrammers). Many of the houses here are now cool, artsy cafes, indie galleries and fashion boutiques.
This is also where you’ll find much of the city’s most inventive street art. Collect a map at the tourist information office at the village entrance and slowly wander upwards through winding alleys to find a viewing point for one of the best photo ops in town.
What’s on in 2023?
By far the biggest event on Busan’s contemporary art calendar, this is where galleries and artists from around the world descend on Busan to discover why South Korea’s artists are so rightly revered. 5-7 May, artbusankorea.com/en
Takashi Murakami: Murakami Zombie
A large-scale retrospective of the Japanese artist that spans four decades with a mix of sculpture, paintings and video installations, as well as some never-seen-before early work. Until 12 March, Busan Museum of Art, art.busan.go.kr/eng
Sea Art Festival
Every odd year since 2011 sees Ilgwang beach turn into a spectacular open-air museum with installations and sculptures placed along Busan’s coastline from artists across the world. Dates TBA (usually in November).
Both Qatar and Cathay Pacific offer flights from London Heathrow to Busan, with an average flight time of 15 hours 20 minutes. For more information on Busan, including how to plan the perfect itinerary, please visit visitbusan.net.