|Artist duo Moon Kyung-won and Jeon Joon-ho’s works are on display at 2012 Korea Artist Prize at the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province. / Courtesy of NMOCA|
|Chung Hyung-min, director of the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea, wants the museum to|
represent Korean art and support Korean artists advancing overseas.
The National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea (NMOCA) is on the way to becoming the key place of Korean art and Chung Hyung-min, 60, named new director in January, is leading the innovation.
Chung was an art history professor at Seoul National University before she took the position of the head of the nation’s contemporary art institution. She also led Seoul National University Museum of Art.
With her expertise, Chung is ensuring the museum showcases the essence of Korean art and supports Korean artists advancing overseas.
“The NMOCA should represent Korean contemporary art and I think it has the collection to do so. However, it was not researched thoroughly or put on display for public viewing,” Chung said.
That is why Chung is reorganizing permanent exhibition halls based on these works. Currently, the main museum in Gwacheon has nine halls with two of them being used for special exhibitions. Chung is reorganizing them to present hidden gems from the collection.
“I think Korean artists are strong in craft, but there was no space dedicated to craft art. So I renovated one of the permanent exhibit halls to a craft art gallery. The same goes for photography and print, which are important genres of modern art but were exhibited with paintings,” the director said. “The museum is archiving architectural works and maybe we could hold an exhibition shedding light on Korea’s contemporary architects.”
Her move came as a part of a bigger plan to specialize the Gwacheon building about a year ahead of the opening of the NMOCA’s new Seoul branch named UUL National Art Museum Seoul.
There was a fire at the construction site in August, creating worries that the completion might be impeded by the fatal accident. However, Chung assured the public that the art museum will open on schedule.
“The UUL was scheduled to be completed by February and open at the end of 2013. The completion is going to be delayed but it won’t affect the opening of the museum,” Chung explained.
|Architect’s rendition of UUL National Art Museum Seoul|
The UUL is located in central Seoul, right next to Gyeongbok Palace and tourist district Samcheong-dong and has a good accessibility. Designed by Min Hyun-jun, the new museum encompasses Korean history as it includes a 21st century building, the former Defense Security Command headquarters from the 1930s and an office building from the Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) that is being relocated.
“Buildings from three different times physically co-exist in the UUL and visitors will experience the continuity of time,” Chung said.
The museum should also see an increase of international visitors at the new location. Currently, only 2 percent of the visitors to the museum are foreigners.
“Those who are interested in contemporary art generally visit the Gwacheon location, but the new Seoul museum should attract more tourists,” Chung said. “This is a good time to open a new art museum in Seoul since interest in Korean culture is picking up across the globe.”
Chung aims to research artworks academically and present them in a more comprehensive and popular way for ordinary viewers. “The UUL will also introduce the ever-changing trend of international contemporary art to Korean audiences as well as interdisciplinary art.”
When the UUL opens, the NMOCA will strengthen uniqueness of each branch — the Deoksugung branch will focus on modern art from the early 20th century and Gwacheon will feature more works from the museum’s collection.
The budget of NMOCA allocated for purchasing artworks is relatively small — only 3 billion won for the museum and 2 billion won for the Art Bank. Previous directors of NMOCA bought some works of renowned international artists, but Chung put the budget together solely for Korean artists.
“I see great potential from the NMOCA’s collection. My goal is to enrich the collection and make anyone who wants to see Korean art to come to the NMOCA,” Chung said.
The primary function of the art museum would be exhibitions, but Chung also aims to reinforce the educational and research function of the NMOCA. A research center and storage of the NMOCA planned in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province reflects Chung’s ambition.
“Research is positively necessary in networking with the world’s leading museums and introducing Korean contemporary art to the world,” the director said. “I hope the center becomes a hub of Asian contemporary art.”
People think contemporary art is difficult to understand because they are not used to the system of symbols in the 21st century art, according to Chung. “The phenomenon is normal since it is something currently underway. I think that’s why people have to come and see contemporary art — it portrays ‘our’ life, not the life of someone 100 years ago. Appreciating contemporary art will make their life richer,” Chung said.
Chung’s ultimate goal is to place the NMOCA in the rank of world-class museums. “With the opening of the UUL in Seoul, we will promote cooperation with world’s top art museums and try to stand equally with them,” the director said.