How South Korea’s Gallery Seomi Found a Perfect Outpost—and an Unexpected Market—in the Hollywood Hills

Tucked away in the Hollywood Hills, along Wonderland Park Avenue, sits the historic Pierre Koenig Case Study House #21—a simple, steel-framed structure composed of clean lines and rectangles, which was designed in the 1950s out of an initiative aimed to lessen housing shortages. A sleek complement to its idyllic surroundings, the house seems as though it were predestined for its current function, the American home to Gallery Seomi. Founded in Seoul in 2003 by Jacob Koo and PJ Park—the son of Hong Song-Won, the prominent art dealer who introduced artists including Donald Judd and Alberto Giacometti to South Korea—Seomi grew out of the duo’s shared taste for collecting and a budding business partnership. A little over a decade later, the gallery has established itself at the forefront of Korean design, while also specializing in international artists and works that embrace the intersections of art, design, and architecture.

Following the launch of an exhibition program in Seoul in 2007, and Gallery Seomi’s first international presentation in 2009 at Design Miami/Basel, the inauguration of an American outpost was a cogent next step—and they could not have chosen a more compelling locale. Over two years since the opening of the idyllic Los Angeles showroom, we caught up with Seomi’s CEO, Linus Adolfsson, to learn about Seomi’s mission, its experience in L.A., and the Korean designers whose works are thriving in the United States—including Lee Hun Chung, who activated the L.A. space over the summer and will take on the international fair circuit in the coming months, beginning with The Salon: Art + Design this November in New York.

Artsy: Why did you choose to bring Gallery Seomi to L.A.? What is the vision for the Case Study House?

Linus Adolfsson: When we initially announced that we planned to open up a design gallery in Los Angeles, many people tried to convince us that we were making a big mistake. Los Angeles is not known as a mecca among collectors, and is sometimes described as a city that lacks sophistication and art appreciation. We are convinced that this notion is wrong and our operations have shown that Los Angeles can provide a healthy environment for a unique art and design gallery such as Gallery Seomi. Perhaps we did forgo some of the ingrained traditions of collecting that can be found in London, Paris, and New York, but Los Angeles has an open mind and has proven to be willing to support our gallery. The creative and positive atmosphere in Los Angeles has helped us to continue to think big and be bold.

Our vision for the Case Study House is for it to not only represent a fantastic era of beautiful architectural solutions and innovations in building processes, but for it to represent a desire in people to not mimic the living solution of their forefathers but establish a new way to live their lives, which is represented in the architectural layout and functional solutions of the house. We believe that our program in the same manner represents a new era in which handcraft and tradition is melted together with nature, contemporary shapes, and forms in an endeavor to seek beauty. “Seeking beauty” is the Korean meaning of Seomi.

Artsy: How did Gallery Seomi come to inhabit the Case Study House? Do you think of it as the ultimate design acquisition?

LA: The house was bought by PJ Park in 2007 and he treated the purchase of the house as he treats many other art pieces that he has acquired—“This is something that I simply need to have”—without having a predestined idea for how the house would be utilized in the future.

There are many beautiful architectural properties in Los Angeles but for our mission I cannot dream of a better place to display our art and design. The closeness to nature and the seclusion in the hills of Hollywood make this an ideal place to bridge the indoor and the outdoor experience, while at the same time integrating nature—which all are important elements of our program.

Artsy: How does Seomi bridge design, fine art, and architecture? Can you tell us about exhibitions, events, or programming you put on that helps to achieve this goal?

LA: The best art and design complements even the most astonishing works of architecture. Our artists have shown me through their works how the Case Study House has grown to become a metamorphosis. We continue to rediscover the beauty of Pierre Koenig’s creation by rotating various art and design works in the house. We currently have an exhibition at the gallery that emphasizes the indoor/outdoor opportunity that California spaces possess in general, and which is illustrated by the Case Study Houses in particular.

We have interest groups attending the gallery from the USC Architectural School, as well as from the Getty Center and other local interest organizations. We believe that sharing our mid-century treasure with the public will benefit the gallery in the long term and, more importantly, continue to feed the interest in mid-century architecture as well as art and design in Los Angeles.

Artsy: Can you talk us through the works of Lee Hun Chung? How has the reception of his works been in L.A.?

LA: Lee Hun Chung’s works are representative of our gallery in many ways. He possesses both the vision and the handcraft to make pieces unlike any other artist’s works. He works with clay that comes from his home outside of Seoul, and he has built a special kiln to be able to accommodate the large scale of his works. He often finds inspiration during long walks in nature, but he also admits to being a blank slate to his inherent talent and often lets his hands show him the way and guide him through the process of creating new shapes, forms, and surfaces. His background is in fine art and architecture and he personifies the notion of bridging old techniques and handcraft with contemporary forms.

His works can be used indoor and outdoor year round all over the world—from the winter cold in Moscow to the desert heat in Palms Springs. Many of his pieces have a tendency to appear to be an extension of nature. The range of opportunities for Lee Hun Chung’s work is unlimited since each piece can be used as a stool, coffee table, sculpture, side table, or simply a beautiful object. Many of our clients have opened up our eyes to how the pieces can be used, which has sparked our own creativity.

Lee Hun Chung has fortunately been very well-received in Los Angeles and his pieces have helped us to find an unexpected market. Many of our design collectors are also collectors of fine art. Lee Hun Chung is not only appreciated among this clientele, but has also sparked an interest in clients that have never previously been interested in either art or design—and that has been an interesting start of a journey that we hope to continue.

—Casey Lesser

Portrait of Lee Hun Chung and images of Case Study House #21 courtesy of Gallery Seomi.

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