Monday, February 1, 2016

'Korea needs more professional curators'

Korea Foundation Vice President Yoon Keum-jin / Courtesy of the Korea Foundation

Galleries overseas not fully utilized: KF vice president

By Rachel Lee.

Korea should find ways to make the most of limited gallery space at overseas museums to better promote the country's culture, a Korea Foundation (KF) executive says.

Vice President Yoon Keum-jin believes that making the best use of space, and having professional curators, should be the top priority instead of focusing too much on getting more space.

The KF was founded in 1992 for international exchange and public diplomacy initiatives.

"Korea joined the museums pretty late, which means we didn't have much choice for location and size in the first place anyway," Yoon, 58, told The Korea Times.

"Unless major renovations take place at the venues, it is certainly not possible for us to obtain more gallery room."

Yoon, who has handled almost every project related to Korean galleries abroad for over 20 years, was director at the organization's office in Washington, D.C., the Culture and Arts Department and the International Cooperation Department.

The KF has helped set up rooms in 28 locations in 10 countries.

The Korea Foundation has hosted workshops to educate curators from around the world since 1999. / Courtesy of the Korea Foundation

According to the organization, 75 Korean galleries and small sections had been set up in museums in 23 countries as of 2014. Most are in Europe (27) and the U.S. (33). There are 12 in Asia, two in South America and one in Oceania. In 2012, there were 67 galleries in 22 countries.

Leading museums including the British Museum, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities in Sweden have presented Korean cultural displays. The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco has 794 items on show.

"Looking at the location and scale, our displays may seem to fall short of what our neighbors have done," Yoon said, pointing out rather fundamental problems apart from Korea being a late starter.

"To begin with, a lack of cultural properties available for display and an unbalanced range have made it hard to attract audiences," she said. "China and Japan, for instance, boast a large quantity and also a better location, but it also has something to do with philanthropy as well. Some of the assets in the Chinese gallery include donations from Chinese individuals, which helped a lot."

There are a total of 15,500 assets available here for exhibition — mostly pottery from the National Museum of Korea.

"Another problem is that there are not enough curators in charge of the Korean sections at the museums," the vice president said. "Their role is vital as they are the ones that come up with various ideas for exhibitions to attract and engage audiences with their in-depth understanding about the country and its collection."

The Korean collection had some of the renowned experts in the past — including Jane Portal and Charlotte Holyck who curated the gallery at the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum (V and A) in London. There are Korean experts working for overseas museums — including Lee So-young, associate curator in Korean Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Kim Hyun-jung, associate curator of Chinese and Korean Art at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco; and Woo Hyun-soo, Maxine and Howard Lewis associate curator of Korean Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The KF has launched a series of projects to support the Korean galleries — including a special day dedicated to Korea and workshops to educate curators from around the world.

"We have offered a session for overseas curators to help them understand the history of Korean art. This year, those from Japan are coming to Korea for this workshop," Yoon said.

Last September, the KF supported "Chuseok Family Day" at the V and A, which was designed to "share and communicate the mood and the spirit of Chuseok," Korean Thanksgiving, according to the organization. The program offered 11 activities such as Korean traditional games, pop-up performances of Korean folktales, a hanbok dressing room, a kite-making class and a Korean pop dance workshop.

The vice-president also suggested holding special exhibitions with a specific theme.

"We aren't satisfied with the current limited space and the relatively small of number of cultural properties available for display," she said. "Now we should think about what we can do with the circumstances instead of moaning and complaining."

"If we can make the best use of what we have in collaboration with well-educated experts, I'm sure it will make the exhibitions more attractive and interesting for audiences," Yoon said. 

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