Monday, December 28, 2009

Episode 46: In Which DFM Makes A Gold Coin, And Jesus Glows In The Dark

On Saturday I did something I haven't done since April - sight seeing.

First stop was the Bank of Korea Museum (above). I didn't even know this place existed, and neither did most of my Korean friends when I told them about it, but it's definitely one of those "hidden gems" (hiding on a major street, in down town Seoul, right beside the Bank of Korea).

The Bank of Korea is not actually a place where you can store your money. Rather, like the Bank of Canada, its main function is to control inflation by adjusting the interest rate. The Bank of Korea Museum, though, is designed to educate visitors about the history of the Bank of Korea, how money is created and protected from counterfeiting, as well as showcasing the evolution of money throughout history, and exhibiting various examples of currency from around the world.

The most interesting educational exhibit showcased what happens to bills once they are no longer usable.

(Stage 1: 100% cotton Korean banknotes are printed at the Bank of Korea.)

(Stage 2: Banknotes are used.)

(Stage 3: Banknotes become damaged and unusable.)

(Stage 4: Banknotes are shredded.)

(Stage 5: Shredded banknotes are pressed into rolls.)

(Stage 6: Banknotes turned into compressed flooring or sound insulation for cars. The floor panel on the left weighs about 4.8 kg, and consists of roughly $43 000 worth of destroyed Korean banknotes.)

(Here we have the official scale used by the Bank of Korea to weigh gold. The last time this was used was as recently as 1997, when the Bank of Korea bought gold from citizens in an attempt to stimulate the economy after many Asian markets crashed.)

(This is a working press used to make coins.)

(For a nominal fee one can buy a gold plated tin sheet and insert it into the press.)

(I assume that the real press would have punched this coin out, but here I am with a nice imprint of a yeop jeon "leaf coin.")

(A copy of the first banknote ever printed, in China.)

(Speaking of money from China, here we have horse hoof-shaped silver coins. I can't believe these didn't catch on.)

(Korea has had its own silly money too. This is a silver vase supposedly shaped like the Korean peninsula.)

(The shortest lived banknote design in Korea's history. 24 days after it was created, the design was changed. Additionally, if you look closely, and can read hangeul, you'll notice that the bill doesn't say 100 won. It's actually 100 hwan, which was the name of the currency in Korea for a short period between 1953 and 1962. 100 hwan would have equalled 1000 won at the time, which in turn would have amounted to anywhere from 1 2/3 USD to 8 cents, depending on which year this bill was printed - inflation devalued the hwan 2083% between 1953 and 1962.)

(During times of emergency, central banks are allowed to change the value on bills simply by stamping them, rather than have to take the taking the time and money to reprint them. Central banks are even allowed to use/change foreign currency into local currency in this manner if required.)

(A North Korean 1 won bill. I assume this is priceless, as in worth $0.)

(The Bank of Korea has samples of money from every country in the world. Switzerland has, by far, the best looking money of any country, although I must say that even judging impartially, the new Canadian bills compare quite favourably.)

* * * * *

After leaving the Bank of Korea I headed over to the Seoul Metropolitan Museum of Art (SeMA). Already having visited the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art during my first visit to Seoul, I should have quit while I was ahead. Despite the promising name, the Seoul Metropolitan Museum of Art was notably underwhelming.

For a mere $0.65 I was allowed to view the "Against the Sculpture: Three Dimensions of Uncertainty" exhibit on the main floor. This was one of those modern, "strange art" exhibits, where nothing inside actually looks like art, but you are told it represents something and that you should admire it because the artist, by virtue of being an artist, clearly knows better than you what makes something "art." I tried to keep an open mind, but generally consider putting the best piece of art first a bad business move, and that's what happened here.

After the amazing display of charcoal suspended from string to form four different water droplets in various stages of "free fall"/destruction, things took a turn for the worse (sorry for the lack of images, but I wasn't allowed to take any pictures).

The next exhibit consisted of some pyramidal shapes attached to a wall, and then I saw a Roman pillar on a metal track being pulled slowly back and forth by a motor. Apparently this was supposed to symbolize... actually I can't remember, but I assure you that it did not make any sense.

Unfortunately, the slow moving pillar was like bungee jumping compared to the plain, A4 white paper "building" that someone built. It may have been interesting if it had some doors or windows drawn on, or even any features at all. However, it was just the shape of a building made out of regular, unfolded, taped together A4 paper. It seriously looked like someone's Junior High art class project that he/she didn't finish.

The award for worst stereotype of a useless artist though, definitely goes to whoever made the display of tools (screw driver, hammer, etc.) hung on a wall. Fortunately I was then put out of my misery, as this was the last exhibit in the gallery. However, as I now felt rather disappointed (it may have been only $0.65, but that was an hour I'll never get back), I tried to salvage the thirty minute walk over by shelling out the $12 extra needed to see the two floor Andy Warhol exhibit.

Even though the majority of Andy Warhol's works seemed to be of either Campbell's soup cans, or pictures of famous figures he then painted, they weren't boring. That said, more or less nothing in the exhibit looked like it took any talent at all, but merely took the gall to call it art. Andy Warhol openly admits this though, and that's why I didn't feel like my intelligence was being insulted. "Art is anything you can get away with," and "An artist is someone who produces things that people don't need to have but he - for some reason - feels it would be a good idea to give them," were just two of Warhol's quotes painted on the walls around the galleries. The exhibit culminated in a black lit tent full of many glowing Jesuses, all drawn with Andy Warhol's urine.

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