In 2007, the young South Korean gallerist and dealer PJ Park opened a contemporary design program at Gallery SEOMI, a contemporary art space originally started by his mother—Hong Song-Won—in 1988. This expansion into design stemmed from a business that Park’s family has nurtured for the last 30 years. “I grew up watching various exhibitions—changing furniture around the house was almost a daily life routine,” Park recently said. “Even in my dorm room in college I remember removing all provided furniture and replacing everything with ones that I bought in flea markets and antique stores.”
Craftsmanship and simplicity have long defined the aesthetic qualities of Korea, whose dynamic culture stretches back thousands of years and forms a rich artistic tradition in its own right despite deep, if not fraught, ties to China and Japan. Now a burgeoning design scene is gaining momentum and grabbing global attention. “Before we launched, there was not a single gallery in Korea that showed Korean contemporary design,” explained Park. “Until that moment, our gallery concentrated more on importing Western art and design to Korea, but I knew that I wanted to expand and begin exporting a part of Korean culture to the rest of the world,” he added.
Though the Seoul-based gallery represents designers from Europe and the United States, such as Maria Pergay and Wendell Castle, the gallery invigorates Korean traditions by introducing a new generation of sophisticated designers that hail from the East Asian peninsula. “We continue to present the growth and development of Korean artists via new works at each fair we attend,” said Park. For their fifth year showing at Design Miami/ the gallery is exhibiting two new sets of lounge chairs by Bae Sehwa, who concentrated on developing smaller-scale objects rather than larger pieces like her desk, bench, and sofa of recent years. Also on view are works by Byung-Hoon Choi, Hun Chung Lee, Jang Jin, Jong-Sun Bahk, Myung Sun Kang, and Kim Sang Hoon who together form a group show concerned with the reinterpretation of ancient craft techniques and emphasis on natural materials.
“Just like any other business, opening an entity takes a big commitment and passion as well as ongoing investment,” said Park. “I am very much attached to all of our designers for believing in my vision and continuing this journey with me.” With the project close to his heart, one hopes that Gallery SEOMI will continue to both reveal and multiply Korean designers’ current efforts and those that preceded them.