Kukje Gallery has a proud history of introducing Korean audiences to new art experiences. With last summer’s reopening of its K1 building, which now encompasses exhibition spaces, a café, restaurant, and wellness centre, it is rethinking how and where art should be experienced.

The 1987 building is one of three spaces that Kukje operates in the upscale, leafy enclave of Samcheong-dong. The original structure comprises a glass midsection (with Gehry-esque glass façades) sandwiched between two rectilinear volumes, all of which have undergone a two-year makeover modelled on the concept of a multi-use arts complex.

Local architecture practice Ourstudio was brought on board to refresh the architecture and create the new café and exhibition areas on the ground floor. The idea, which has proven prescient, was to create open spaces throughout the building, with as few dividing walls as possible so that windows, and the greenery outside, are always in view: ‘The interior is closely connected to its outer surroundings, which I believe serves as a relief to people who live in a time of isolation, quarantine, and social distancing. In a post-Covid-19 society, we can really only find solace in art and nature,’ reflects the gallery’s managing director, Bo Young Song. 

The restaurant at the K1 arts complex, with custom walnut furniture by Teo Yang and windows facing Gyeongbokgung Palace
The restaurant at the K1 arts complex, with custom walnut furniture by Teo Yang and windows facing Gyeongbokgung Palace

Meanwhile, designer Teo Yang, a veteran designer of collectors’ homes and an avid collector himself, was brought on board to transform the rest of the building. The second floor now houses ‘The Restaurant’, with an eclectic seasonal menu that encomposses French-Japanese fusion and Italian cuisines (it also has a small VIP dining room in the basement), while the third floor wellness centre, where membership is by invitation only, includes a private gym, yoga hall and lounge area. 

Works by Kukje’s roster of Korean and international artists are present in every space: visitors can dine under an installation of aluminium venetian blinds (a homage to Sol LeWitt) by Berlin-based Haegue Yang, surrounded by a mural that she created with London design studio OK-RM; meditate in front of a mesmerising circular painting by Ugo Rondinone, or lift weights in front of a digital piece by Julian Opie. There’s a Louise Bourgeois drawing outside the locker rooms and an Elmgreen & Dragset pool sculpture on the terrace. Furniture is a mix of geometric original pieces by Yang, and design icons such Pierre Jeanneret chairs and Serge Mouille wall lighting.

Elmgreen & Dragset’s Human Scale (Zero) sculpture, 2018, on the gallery’s roof terrace
Elmgreen & Dragset’s Human Scale (Zero) sculpture, 2018, on the gallery’s roof terrace

‘I hope the gallery evokes the curated and well-balanced atmosphere of a collector’s home,’ says Yang. ‘Visitors are encouraged to imagine living with the work that’s in front of their eyes, installed in the comfort of their living rooms.’

The relaunched K1 has already been met with a surge of interest from both art world and non-art world visitors, explains Song. ‘We believe that art transcends the visual, and as multidisciplinary integration is becoming increasingly more relevant in all aspects of our world today, it was a necessary step for the gallery to keep up with and even try to move ahead of our times.’ §