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The main branch of South Korea’s National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, located in Gwacheon, is one of four buildings that make up the institution. (photo via Wikimedia)

The appointment of a new director to South Korea’s National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) last week has extenuated the concerns of the country’s art community over issues of government and institutional censorship, with hundreds of arts professionals signing a statement pressuring the museum to publicly declare internal policy reforms.

On December 2, the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism (MCST) confirmed the leadership of Bartomeu Marí, who previously headed the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) and is currently president of the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art (CIMAM). His appointment marks the first time a foreigner will direct a public art museum in Korea and also fills a position that has been vacant for a year. Petition 4 Art, a group composed of South Korean curators, artists, writers, and art students, long dissatisfied with the drawn-out nomination process, published its statement the following day; they will mail the document — which as of press time has received over 500 signatures — to Minister of Culture Kim Jong-deok tomorrow, ahead of Marí’s inauguration ceremony on Monday.

Bartomeu Mari (photo via Wikipedia) (click to enlarge)

As Hyperallergic previously reported, Petition 4 Art had protested Marí’s prospective appointment in the weeks leading up to MCST’s announcement, citing apprehensions over his controversy-ridden past. In March, while still the director of MACBA, the Spaniard cancelled The Beast and the Sovereign, a group exhibition at the museum, due to Austrian artist Ines Doujak’s sculpture featuring former king of Spain Juan Carlos I in an act of sodomy. He also fired two of the exhibition’s four curators before widespread protests eventually pushed him to resign from his position. His decisions had further repercussions last month, when three museum directors resigned from CIMAM’s board out of lasting dissatisfaction over the organization’s response to the situation.

Petition 4 Art’s latest statement, which is published only in Korean, is not a response solely to Marí’s appointment, but describes wider concerns about MMCA and MCST’s relationship with the art community as the museum prepares to enter its new era.

“The second statement expresses clearly our deepest regret with the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, which has pushed ahead with the appointment while refusing to respond to any of our questions, thus ignoring the voices of the Korean art community that asked for clarification on the issue of Marí’s censorship through the first statement,” a Petition 4 Art representative told Hyperallergic through email. “In the [latest] statement, we demand specific procedures such as declaration of ethics and institutional reform as well as express our position considering a wider context.”

A sculpture outside the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art’s Seoul location (photo by Jinho Jung via Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Petition 4 Art is largely uncertain about how much control MCST will wield over the museum’s affairs now that MMCA finally has a director. According to the group, MCST has revised MMCA’s regulations over the past year, decreasing the director’s say in personnel affairs and oversight of the collection while strengthening government authority.

“Now is the time for legal and institutional procedures to recover the independence and autonomy of MMCA,” the Petition 4 Art member said. “The government must relinquish all attempts of censorship and control that would be of impediment to autonomy of art.”

To ensure continued transparency over the museum’s relationship with MCST, Petition 4 Art also demands that the institution outline and publicly declare a list of ethics that “states a clear will against any censorship or pressure from all authorities, from the director.” Hyperallergic contacted Marí for comment, but he declined to discuss his vision for the MMCA until he starts his new job on Monday.

The group’s concerns stem from an increase in claims of cultural censorship across many artistic fields in South Korea. MMCA is not the only organization that has faced external pressures to edit its agenda, as Petition 4 Art noted in its initial statement. Others include the Gwangju Biennale, where city officials pulled a political caricature from the exhibition, and October’s Busan International Film Festival, which faced government funding cuts — a penalty, many suspected, for its refusal to pull a controversial film from its program last year. To continue addressing such affairs of bureaucracy and censorship and increase public awareness of them, Petition 4 Art plans to organize open seminars and publish further statements.

h/t Korea Times

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Claire Voon

Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE,...