Asia's Top Art Havens in Japan, Seoul, Taipei and Dunhuang
You may have made it through the long lines for Michelangelo’s David in Florence and snapped a selfie in front of the smiling first lady of the Louvre, but there are plenty more arty checkpoints to hit closer to home…
Island art-hop in Japan
While many might recognize the giant yellow Yayoi Kusama pumpkin that sits on the edge of a pier on the island of Naoshima, few dig deeper to uncover the emerging contemporary art scene on the islands of the Seto Inland Sea in the south of Japan. The inhabitants once made a living out of fishing and seaweed farming, but these days it’s all about contemporary art. The islands’ flagship event is the Setouchi Triennale (Jul 18-Sep 4; Oct 8- Nov 6, setouchi-artfest.jp), featuring more than 200 art installations and museums spread across the islands.
Kick off your island-hopping at Takamatsu Port, where you can bike past British sculptor Julian Opie’s cartoonish stone sculptures. Go on a scavenger hunt for curious artworks at the least expected places, such as a palm tree girdled by a large buoy in front of an abandoned elementary school in Megijima, or head to Naoshima Bath—a crossover between a bathhouse and an art installation, in which visitors can take a hot bath amongst its chaotic décor, including a stuffed baby elephant.
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Mark your park in Seoul
Aside from cosmetic fads, cheesy food and catchy tunes, South Korea has also been hard at work on its flourishing art scene. At the heart of the buzz is Seoul, a bustling hub of creative spaces and galleries. If you’re planning on doing the rounds, don’t miss Gallery Hyundai (14 Samcheong-ro, Jonno-gu, Seoul), the city’s oldest gallery, and Gallery Factory (Jahamunro 10 gil 15, Jongno-gu, Seoul), a hip hub for up-and-coming artists.
Take your outdoor art hunt a step further at Anyang Art Park (131 Yesulgongwon-ro, Manan-gu, Anyang-si, Gyeonggi-do), located a quick bus ride south of Seoul. Wacky sculptures hide in the nooks and crannies of the forested hill—think grotesque sculptures of animals with extra feet and roses for heads, or a space enclosed by plastic beer boxes that glow in fluorescent hues as the sunlight peeps through.
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See old meeting new in Taipei
The next time you spend a weekend in Taiwan’s modern metropolis, take a break from pigging out at the night markets and plan a day to explore the art spaces that have been popping up across the city.
The Taiwanese government has been working with artists for the past decade to gussy up abandoned factories and warehouses into creative spaces. Check out the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park (133 Guangfu South Rd., Xinyi District, Taipei, www.songshanculturalpark.taipei), a new-meets-old arts hub reinstituted from a defunct tobacco factory in 2011. Permanent exhibitions include a gallery showcasing works by artisanal glassblowers Liuli Gongfang. Look out for special exhibitions too, which are usually refreshed every month.
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Brave the caves in Dunhuang
If you’re tired of air-conditioned art galleries, travel to Dunhuang in northwest China for an up-close art history lesson amidst its rocky grottoes. Located in Gansu Province on the winding Silk Road, the Mogao Caves are steeped in 17 centuries of history, nicknamed the “Thousand Buddha Caves” for the rows of tiny stencil-replicated Buddha figures covering the inside of the caves.
Check out the Indian-influenced rock-cut architecture, all hewn out of solid rock, and snap a selfie with the murals which depict flying apsara spirits and intricately painted Bodhisattvas. History fanatics can venture into the Library Cave, a treasure trove filled with up to 50,000 manuscripts. The caves are normally restricted, so you’ll have to join a tour group (around $255 per person) to get in.