Seoul is famous for its spacious, modern and free museums. With so many options around the city, it’s hard to choose just one. One new museum, opened in the summer of 2021, is here to challenge them all. With its stunning architecture, creative curation and fascinating content, the Seoul Museum of Craft Art (SeMoCA) has taken its rightful place as our favourite museum in the city. Read on to learn more about all there is to do, see, and experience in this unique cultural centre.
History of the Museum
Although many craft museums exist around Korea, SeMoCA is the first national museum dedicated to this subject. It was opened not just to educate on Korean handicraft, but to show the step-by-step process in making these goods. It also pays homage to craftsmen throughout history, as well as great patrons who have helped establish the museum. Although the word ‘museum’ is singular in name, this cultural space hosts several buildings, all of which we will introduce you to today.
Exhibition Hall 1
The largest building in the museum complex, Exhibition Hall 1 has a lot to offer. The ground floor introduces modern day craftsman and their tools alongside a museum library (access limited during COVID-19). On the second and third floors, you can see some incredible exhibitions on wood work, metal work, and religious art among others. There is also a floor for temporary exhibitions here that is currently under renovation. The exhibition will re-open in late November, 2021.
Exhibition Hall 2
There were many things about the second exhibition hall that stood out to me. For one, the third floor is home to the museum’s archives and introduces visitors to the curation and restoration process. You can see how the works are taken apart and restored with the help of artists and scientists. This is something I feel many museums miss an opportunity to introduce. Luckily, the founders of this museum have recognised the value in education. The actual exhibitions here display information on the art of mother-of-pearl lacquerware as well as an introductory room of Intangible Cultural Heritage persons. These are artisans recognised by the Korean government for their skill with the goal to preserve their craft style. This particular room was my favourite part of the museum, as I found it not only touching but inspiring. As you can imagine, many of these craftsmen are in their later years of life. I hope to see the halls filled with younger generations as time passes.
Exhibition Hall 3
Exhibition Hall three introduces fabric craft, particularly embroidery and bojagi, a traditional form of Korean wrapping. Visitors can not only see some of the oldest examples of embroidery (dating back to the Goryeo kingdom), but they can try their hand at bojagi. For sewing enthusiasts, unique computer displays zoom in on a particular work. Visitors can then see the type of stitch in a specific section of the fabric. There is also an exhibition on one of the museum donors. I found his story particularly fascinating due to his interest in Joseon porcelain like myself. However, pressed by the opinion of his wife, he collected embroidery instead as porcelain easily breaks and consists of counterfeits. His personal artwork and certifications are available for viewing.
The circular building has two exhibition floors with the highest being an education and experience centre. The attached cafe allows guardians to take a rest while the children explore.
As of fall/winter 2021, the Information Building that also hosts the museum cafe and gift store, is under construction.
One of the most striking features of this museum complex is its luxury seating areas. While many of them are inside the buildings and offer seats made from hand-woven bamboo or perfectly carved stone, you can also find hidden gems outside the museum walls. Be sure to peak around the corner of the Children’s Museum to spot the 400-year-old ginkgo tree, placed atop grassy steps akin to rice paddies. Even the spacious lawn is open for gatherings and makes the perfect stop for a quick snack or a photoshoot.
The Seoul Museum of Craft Art is a place you’ll want to lose yourself. You’ll learn so much about the country’s most famous crafts while also understanding the people behind them. It not only shares information, but educates, informs and inspires us to recognise the long-lasting culture that Korea can boast. I would suggest spending several hours here to make your way through the exhibitions as well as to take in the beautiful outdoor spaces. SeMoCA is nothing less than a feast for the eyes, brain and heart.
If you’re looking to looking to learn more about Korean craft art, check out our guide to the Yongsan Craft Museum in Seoul.
Address: 03061 4, Yulgok-ro 3-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul | 서울시 종로구 율곡로 3길 4 03061
Subway: Subway Line 3, Anguk Station, Exit 1 (2 minutes by foot)
Website: Click here
Opening Hours: 10AM – 6PM (Closed Mondays, January 1st)
Entrance Fee: Free*
Accessibility: All buildings are accessible via ground floor with spacious elevators (access to all floors) in every building. Ramp access is also available to enter the buildings.
*Various websites state that visitors must book in advance. As of November 2021, I was able to enter the museum without a booking.