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Overseas museums seek to work with Korean curators

Posted August. 03, 2023 07:45,   

Updated August. 03, 2023 07:46


Last June, the National Museum of Korea (NMK) received an email from the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem City, Oregon, home to 1,842 Korean cultural artifacts, including paintings dating back to the Joseon dynasty. The latter asked the former to help it hire curators to take charge of its Korean art section as part of its renovation plan to scale it up and hold a special exhibition on Korean cultural artifacts. Since 2009, the South Korean central museum has provided overseas museums aspiring to hire curators for their Korean art sections with grants that can cover some or all of their wages for three to five years. Last month, the Peabody Essex Museum employed Kim Ji-yeon, a curator who majored in Korean art, as its curator in charge of the Korean art section, making her the first South Korean employee in the Oregon-located museum.

It is not only the Peabody Essex Museum but also many other global museums in the United States, Canada, and Germany that replaced their existing curators, who were likely to be Japanese or Chinese art experts, in charge of their Korean exhibition halls, with curators of Korean descent or South Korean curators, said the NMK.

Maria Sobotka, a Korean German curator, started working as a curator for the Humboldt Forum in Berlin last October. Kwon Sung-yeon, a Korean Canadian curator, was hired by the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto last November. The Denver Museum chose Park Ji-young as one of its new curators in January.

With K-culture increasingly popular across the globe, overseas museums have seemingly sought to expand their Korean art sections. “The NMK used to support Korean art exhibition halls overseas primarily by lending cultural assets, running educational programs and helping carry out preservation processes," NMK curator Shin So-yeon said. "The focus has recently been shifted to meeting the growing demands for curators who will take charge of overseas museums’ Korean art sections."

With Korean curators gaining traction among global museums, they are leading new trends in Korean art exhibitions. Previously, they merely rented and displayed cultural assets brought from the NMK and other South Korean museums. However, they have recently turned to exhibition and research projects to shed new light on Korean cultural properties already possessed in their art collection.