Jeju Art Park, Jeju, South Korea
Jeju Island offers so many hidden treasures that it can be a bit overwhelming. Looking at a map strewn with such enticements as Psyche Butterfly World, Love Land, and Nakcheon Village of Nine Guts (Shamanistic Ritual), it can leave one feeling that there certainly isn’t enough time in a year, much less a weekend, to take it all in. Thus, when spotting a rather nondescript sign for Jeju Art Park, you could be forgiven for driving right by. After all, it sounds like it might be a retired farm couple who decided to make a few extra won by displaying some choice dolharubang on their turnip fields. Fortunately, you would be as pleasantly surprised as I was if you decided to make the trip to this site on the southwest corner of the island.
Largest outdoor sculpture park in Asia?
Despite the understated name, it claims to be the largest outdoor sculpture park in all of Asia; you can easily spend several hours exploring around here. Surprisingly, there is nary a stone grandfather in sight and little of the traditional stone work you are probably used to seeing around the island. Indeed, if it weren’t for the rich subtropical forest that the park is set in, you might forget you are on Jeju at all. What you will find when you cross the threshold of this surreal and beautiful place are strange and exotic forms that seem to spring up from the Earth and dance with the sky-marble that flows like water, disembodied embraces, and many other improbable contours that test the limits of possibility. Whether balancing the primly mowed grass at the center of the park with ecstatic and expressive forms or punctuating the lushness of the forest paths that wind around the park with hidden wonders, the park certainly is a “Meeting of Nature and Art,” as it proclaims.
Of particular interest to me were some of the depictions of human form on display. From surreal and strange to graceful and lifelike, they reveal a wonderful depth of skill and creativity from Korean sculptors. There is a small glen of apparent cast-offs from Love Land; however, unlike that park’s emphasis on absurdity to blunt our culturally inherited chagrin, the few erotic works here are sensuous and moving. Other human depictions are graceful, playful, beautiful, and alive. It is refreshing to see modern sculpture that keeps the soulful depiction of classical art forms while also utilizing the abstract elements and freedom of form found in modernism.
While it is not one of the better known attractions on the island, it is certainly worth checking out. Combined with a trip to the stunning cave temple at Sanbangsan and the quiet Hwasun Beach, it would make a wonderful day trip. On the common English tourist maps, it is called Jeju Sculpture Park and can be easily found by following the signs for Jeju Art Park near the western end of the 1132, just east of the 1121. It is a longish walk or a fairly short bike ride from Sanbangsan. Entrance is around 3,500 won with a discount for residents.