▲ The Kim Young Gap Gallery and exhibition space. Photos by Susan Shain
Whether you buy into all of the New7Wonders of Nature hype or not, there is no disputing that Jeju Island is a beautiful place. It is an island that, in many parts, begs to be photographed. Between the oreum, the fields of pampas grass, and the ocean, there is no shortage of exquisite vistas to capture. One man who did that with extreme skill and devotion was Kim Young Gap. On a recent Saturday, I traveled with a friend to visit the gallery of this late master.
After a few (OK, many) wrong turns, we pulled into the small parking lot. The outer walls of the compound are unimposing, and we had actually already driven past it once.
The gallery is housed in Kim’s former residence — a converted elementary school. It being November, the surrounding garden was lackluster, but I imagine that it is fairly impressive during the spring and summer months. Sprinkled throughout the garden were dozens of tiny, fanciful sculptures.
We purchased our tickets — a bargain at 2,000 won for Jeju Alien Registration Card (ARC) holders — and entered the gallery. The first thing we encountered was Kim’s personal office. Like the rest of the gallery, its decor is almost spartan — a desk, a chair, books, and a collection of film cameras. Unlike many historical offices on display in museums, which seem distant due to the hundreds of years since their use, it felt quite personal and real to be staring at a desk that Kim sat at less than a decade ago.
We then entered the gallery, which is spread over three rooms. Though I had expected the photographs to impress, I was not prepared for the stark beauty of the exhibition space itself. Perfectly spaced and lit, with a border of Jeju volcanic rock, the space, which was designed by Kim, reflects the mind and vision of a great artist.
Kim didn’t give titles to any of his works, so there is no need to struggle with Korean descriptions. I wish I could have understood some of the large plaques though, which I assume describe his life. There are a series of self-portraits in one room, which, when coupled with the office, do offer a small glimpse of the man behind the lens.
▲ Photos by Susan Shain
Though the gallery is beautiful in its own way, it exudes an eerie vibe. It is fitting, as Kim died an early death from Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2005. His struggle is almost tangible in the hollow spaces and cold, concrete aesthetic. The only decorations are Kim’s striking photographs, which appear as giant splashes of color on the barren walls.
As for the photographs, none are of Jeju’s famous attractions like Oedolgae, Dragon Head Rock, or Udo.
Rather, Kim mostly photographed simple fields and oreum — the common sights that residents of Jeju see (and often fail to notice) on a daily basis. What makes his large-scale, panoramic photos extraordinary are the vivid colors and light captured. Kim never used filters or any after-image editing on his photos; he would wait, day after day, to capture exactly the right light. Each of his photos is an homage to the every day beauty of the island we call home.
Rumor has it that there is a garden with more statues across the street. Unfortunately, we missed it. But I’m not worried — I’ll see it next time. I’ll be back.
Kim Young Gap Gallery Dumoak Address: 137 Samdal-ro, Seongsan-eup, Seogwipo City Phone: 064-784-9907 www.dumoak.co.kr
Hours: 9:30 a.m. - 6 p.m. from March-June, September & October; 9 a.m. - 7 p.m. from July-August; 9:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. from November-February. Closed Wednesdays (except for July & August). Admission Fee: Adults - 3,000 won, Children & Seniors - 1,000 won, Jeju ARC-holders - 2,000 won
The gallery is located on the east side of the island, south of Sunrise Peak (Seongsan Ilchubong), outside the town of Sinsan. From Jeju City, take the eastward bound 1132 bus and disembark after Sinsan. The gallery is about a 30 min walk up a side road. There is a small coffee shop on the grounds, serving the bare basics - coffee and tea for 2,000 or 3,000 won, respectively. The ticket office sells Kim’s work in many different formats, from books to posters (20,000 won) to postcards (5,000 won for five).
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