All the political theater and drama of the last couple of weeks gave me a craving for interesting cultural news in places far, far away from the United States. South Korea and Japan seemingly fit the bill. A dear friend of mine just returned from a short trip to South Korea and raved about a new privately funded museum which has recently opened in Seoul. It's called Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art. The amazing thing about it is that it consists of three independent buildings, designed by three different famous architects: Jean Nouvelle, Mario Botta, and Rem Koolhaas. The first building is devoted to modern and contemporary European and American art, the second one contains a collection of Korean art and the third is an educational and cultural center. My friend tells me that these three buildings, with their totally different aesthetic create a very dynamic and intriguing dialogue, similar to sparks flying around the dinner table at an exceptionally successful party. Funny, it was exactly what I felt was missing at the Richard Meier Getty Center, when it opened in Brentwood a few years ago. Then and now its various buildings bring to mind a group of much too polite cocktail party guests, wearing fancy clothes bought at the same shop.
And here is more amusing news reported in the September issue of The Art Newspaper. The world's most exotic museum opened on the small island of Naoshima in Japan. Designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando, the three story Chichu Art Museum is buried underground so as not to interfere with the natural landscape. As surprising as it might sound, all the works of art are bathed in natural light. This private collection has a wide range of art from Claude Monet's "Water Lilies" to paintings by Jasper Johns and Jackson Pollock and specially commissioned works by Richard Long and James Turrell. Only nine, yes only nine artworks are exhibited there at any given time. The island, 740 kilometers from Tokyo, is rather difficult to reach, but this doesn't stop curious travelers from arriving there in record numbers.
Back to native shores. I was asked to contribute to KCRW's upcoming December Guide with interesting suggestions for smart holiday gifts and where to shop for them. Instead of sweating in a noisy shopping center, I prefer to do my holiday shopping in museum book and gift shops. The best one is hidden on the second floor of the Hammer Museum in Westwood; it has the elegant look of a private club. There is a very good selection of art books with a special large section of books for children. In addition, there is a nice display of unusual and reasonably priced designer gifts. In Little Tokyo in Downtown at the Japanese American National Museum there is a small but exquisite gift shop for rather exotic objects difficult to find in any other place. For the best selection of books on contemporary art and design, I always go to the MOCA store, either on Grand Ave. in Downtown or to the satellite store on Main St. in Santa Monica. And for the unpredictable, colorful and one of a kind surprises, there is no better place than the gift shop at the Craft and Folk Art Museum on Wilshire Blvd. Have fun. Be patriotic. Spend a bundle of money.