“To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world—impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define. The spectator is a prince who everywhere rejoices in his incognito.” — Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays
I am going to try to remain calm and stay on subject. But it isn’t going to be easy.
A few months back, I came across an article about a free exhibition at D Museum, an offshoot of Daelim Museum (just north of Gyeongbok-gung Station and one of my favorites as far as exhibitions go) located in Hannam-dong. The exhibition, titled “Wanderland”, was curated by Hermes based on their 2015 theme, “flânerie”. The flâneur (a man who engages in flânerie) is a concept that came to prominence in the latter half of the 19th century in Paris, when Baudelaire outlined him as a quintessential part of Parisian life. He was embodied by Edgar Allen Poe’s short story “The Man of the Crowd”, which you can read here.
The flâneur as an academic concept is largely a product of industrialized city life and was propelled by Walter Benjamin’s 1930s reflections on Baudelaire’s writing and his own lifelong work on The Arcades Project. Basically, he is an urban wanderer. He roams the city not for any purpose other than to observe. By blending in with the crowd, he becomes anonymous and stripped of fixed identity, while he simultaneously forms intimate, fleeting relationships with the scenes and strangers he observes.
The reason why I was attracted to this exhibition, despite the fact that it was curated by Hermes, was because much of my private work at the moment centers around the concept of the flâneur, or rather, the flâneuse, the female version of the flâneur, who does not exist (her closest living relative, in 19th century Paris, was of course the prostitute).
So you can see why it would be easy for me to go off the rails a bit in this post. And actually, I guess I have. So much for that.
I suppose the exhibition did its best to embody the concept while hawking the brand. I think the fundamental issue is that there can really be no proper representation of flanerie without city streets and, more importantly, without people. Instead, Hermes seemed to have boiled the concept down until the definition shifted a bit, conveniently for them, to the concept of wandering through the city and observing curious items, like a chessboard constructed on the bottom of a chair, or a bicycle in projected, electronic rain. A French bulldog stood in front of a fire-engine-red “Hot Dog Club”.
Some other parts of the exhibition were more on target. Visitors were handed “magic” walking sticks on their way in — on the end, there was a glass lens that transformed what appeared to be blank patches of light spaced throughout the exhibition into animated scenes. There was one section that mimicked the arcades in Paris, where you could peer through simulated shop windows at unusual displays. Another window offered a peek into a home that seemed normal at first, until a jaunty song began to play, the lights went down, and the room transformed.
I think I would’ve been more keen had we not stood in line in the cold for about a half an hour to get in, but it was free, so what can you do?
Afterwards, we headed upstairs to check out one of the more popular restaurants in the museum, the humorously name IAmaBurger. While nearly every other place in the building, which houses a number of restaurants, bars and cafes, was middling to empty, we had to wait another half-hour to get into to IAmaBurger.
I don’t really know why, to be honest, other than the fact that the area of Hannam-dong where D Museum lives is a bit of a restaurant ghost town of the sort that exists in the weird suburban bubbles within Seoul where expensive high-rise apartments loom.
Still, I was quite pleased about two Americanesque factors: Ketchup and mustard on the table and a lemon in my diet coke. The patties were available in 140g or 200g, with the burgers running about 9,000 to 13,000 KRW depending. It was an additional 5,500 KRW for a set. Allegedly, you can sometimes choose the bread you want for your bun, but for some reason, we couldn’t on the day we went. They also have cajun fries. The burgers were good, but it was a bit pricey for the quality. Then again, a set from a standard American fast food chain here will run you close to 10,000 KRW, so I guess the prices aren’t too bad, comparatively speaking — I think I just have trouble settling into the pricing in the middle ground for burgers here.
Oh, and they deliver. There are also IAmaBurger restaurants in Hongdae, Hanam, Busan and Daegu.
So, I guess the prices weren’t bad, but “not bad” is also how I would describe the food. I’m keen to go back and check out some of the other restaurants there. Positioned directly opposite IAmaBurger was a place called Gamsung Tacos & Grill, which was dead empty. It appears to be a Vatos knock-off, but the food doesn’t look half bad.
D Museum offers a lot more than decent meal and a bit of art. There are evening classes a few Friday nights a month that cover a variety of subjects. Recent examples include stained-glass making, flower arranging, cocktail making and graffiti art, for 20,000 won per hour-and-a-half class. There are also a variety of Saturday “meet ups”, that have included DJ performances, indie concerts, yoga and meditation, tango and disco dancing, and all kinds of niche art meet-ups where attendees had the chance to meet famous designers and artists and other enthusiasts while enjoying a cocktail.
Sunday classes seem to be new. So far there has been one focusing on DSLR photography, one on smartphone photography, and one in December on Christmas crafts. In addition, there are regular “party” nights, concerts, events and lectures. It’s a pretty rich community resource. Some of the events, such as the lectures, would be rough on those who don’t speak much Korean, but even if your Korean isn’t stellar, I reckon you could muddle through the more hands-on classes like the art workshops, yoga sessions and dance meet-ups, and of course, there are always the concerts.
At the moment, D Museum is showing an exhibition called “Youth”, which I haven’t seen yet, but which looks as colorful, vibrant and urban as the title suggests — much more interesting, in retrospect, than the Hermes exhibition.
서울특별시 용산구 독서당로29길 5-6
Dokseodangro-29-gil 5-6, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
Tuesday-Thursday, Sunday 10:00am-6pm
Closed Mondays and on Chuseok and Seollal
Admission: 8,000 KRW for adults; 5,000 KRW for students; 3,000 for young children
Website: English / Korean