Tadao Ando’s Bonte Museum (본태박물관), Jeju, South Korea

The southernmost province in South Korea that is often referred to as the country’s Hawai’i for its warmer temperatures relative to the mainland, Jeju-do (Jeju Island) also happens to be home to more than 100 museums, according to The Wall Street Journal as of early 2014.  Ranging from the kitsch to the serious, they dot an island 73 km (45.4 mi) long and 31 km (19.3 mi) wide, catering to tourists in a mostly visa-free province – even to some who would require one for the mainland.

On the top end of Jeju’s museum range would be Japanese architect Tadao Ando’s Bonte Museum (본태박물관).  (Ando’s two other Jeju buildings, Genius Loci and the Glass House, sit on Phoenix Island to the east.)  The complex consists of five galleries, a sculpture garden, a gift shop, and a cafe that serves beverages and a handful of Japanese dishes.



The first four galleries are included in general admission fees, whereas the fifth houses a special exhibit that costs extra (at press time, this focused on Buddhist art).  In some ways, like Richard Meier’s Getty Center in Los Angeles, the art plays second fiddle to the architecture, although each individual gallery at the Bonte is more tightly curated.  Gallery Nos. 1 (“Traditional Art”) and 4 (“Carriage to Heaven”), which bookend the visitor’s sequential path, focus on Korean art.  Gallery 1 features traditional furniture, crafts and housewares, whereas No. 4 takes a more specific, sinister take: painted wooden art used in Joseon Dynasty funerals.

Gallery 2 (“Modern Art”) includes a delightful maze of rooms dedicated to contemporary art, notably one including works by the late Korean American artist Nam June Paik such as Sonatine for Goldfish (1992) (which, of course, includes a live goldfish).  Gallery 3 (“Kusama Yayoi”) is small but significant given the current popularity of the artist’s Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors exhibit traveling across the world, housing two of the Japanese artist’s works: Pumpkin and Infinity Mirrored Room – Gleaming Lights of the Souls.  The latter viewing is a one-time ticketed entry included in general admission.



Although difficult to access via public transportation, the Bonte Museum is well worth a visit, especially if combined with a viewing of Jun Itami’s Bangju Church resembling Noah’s Ark a short walk down the street.  Featuring Ando’s signature takes on right angles, darkness and light, surrounded by a clear panorama of the Jeju countryside, the museum is a pleasant destination to spend a couple of reflective hours.

The Bonte Museum is located at 69, Sallongnam-ro, 762 beon-gil (Sangcheon-ri 380), Andeok-myeon, Seogwipo, Jeju Island, South Korea (제주도 서귀포시 안덕면 산록남로762번길 69, phone: +82 64-792-8108).  Directions are available on the museum’s website; a one-way taxi fare from the Jungmun Tourist Complex costs between KRW10,000 to 15,000 depending on traffic.  The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.  Admission fees range from KRW5,000 to 16,000 – the latest information is available at bontemuseum.com.

Photos: Bonte Museum, Jeju, South Korea
all photos by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine