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[Art on Jeju Island] Breathing life into old downtown

May 2, 2021 - 17:06 By Im Eun-byel
Arario Dongmun Motel looks out to Sanjicheon Stream (Im Eun-byel / The Korea Herald)

The following is the first article in a three-part series that explores art galleries on Jeju Island. -- Ed.

JEJU CITY, Jeju Island -- An old neighborhood near Jeju International Airport has come into the limelight, attracting young hipsters looking for an artsy experience on an island best known as a holiday destination.

Tapdong, situated near the airport -- the main gateway to the island -- was once a bustling area. Tapdong Plaza, a outdoor entertainment hub for young people, opened in 1991 and cinemas, cafes and fast-food restaurants soon followed.

Over the years, however, the Tapdong area became an outdated, derelict neighborhood, failing to attract travelers seeking scenic views on the island. movie theaters shut down and stores went out of business.

But recently, the area has been receiving more attention, as young people who land on the island are making sure to visit the Tapdong district before anything else.

Driving into the Tapdong area, a red building catches the eye -- the Arario Museum Tapdong Cinema. Run by Arario Group, an influential art gallery business with a number of galleries in Seoul and Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province, the contemporary art museum is housed in a renovated six-story cinema building.

The museum’s permanent exhibition features 53 works by 33 artists, including big names such as Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Paik Nam-june and more.

While Arario Museum Tapdong Cinema‘s focuses on contemporary art, it offers more than just art.
PixCell-Bambi collection by Japanese artist Kohei Nawa (Im Eun-byel / The Korea Herald)

Stepping into the art museum, visitors are greeted by a sparkling deer. “PixCell-Bambi” by Japanese artist Kohei Nawa is a series of works that features taxidermied deer covered in glass beads.

Visitors line up in front of the crystal deer for selfies, as the white installation work is highly “Instagrammable.”

“A large number of young people visit Arario Museum Tapdong Cinema. About 40 percent of the visitors are in their 20s and 30s,” Song Ye-jin, a curator at Arario Museum said. Next to the deer collection is the hip cafe Cream, famous for its Jeju-inspired drinks and desserts, such as a matcha, or green tea, latte, hallabong-ade and more.

Lifestyle select shop D&Department opened in July 2020 across the street from the museum. Run by the D&Department Project design group based in Japan, the store sells design products made by artisans from Jeju Island.

Those who would like to buy something other than the classic tangerine or hallabong chocolate at the airport to take home can take a look at artisanal ceramic tableware crafted with Jeju Island soil or objects made with basalt from Jeju Island.
Lifestyle select shop D&Department introduces local products imbued with Jeju Island identity. (Im Eun-byel / The Korea Herald)

The design group also operates the 13-room design hotel D Room in the same building, along with a restaurant that serves up unique dishes using local ingredients.
Visitors line up to take a picture in front of the “D” on the D&Department building. (Im Eun-byel / The Korea Herald)

A large white “d” is printed on the building wall and visitors stand in line to take a photo in front of the letter, to show their friends on social media that they have visited the art gallery district.

A five-minute drive from the Arario Museum Tapdong Cinema is the Arario Dongmun Motel, a motel-turned-art gallery. The gallery looks out to Sanjicheon Stream, where residents washed their laundry in the past. One can see the black basalt rock on the river floor. The Dongmun Motel is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the art gallery, a reopening date has not been set yet due to the prolonged virus situation.

More information on art museums on Jeju Island can be found at the Jeju Tourism Organization site at

By Im Eun-byel (

Arario Museum Tapdong Cinema 
Arario Museum Tapdong Cinema (Im Eun-byel / The Korea Herald)

Tapdong-ro 14, Jeju City
(064) 720-8201
Operation: Closed on Mondays, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Admission Fee: 15,000 won for adults, 9,000 for youth