LIFE&STYLE

New MMCA director attempts to allay censorship concerns

By 이우영

Bartomeu Mari, former director of the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, appointed to head the state-run art museum in Korea

  • Published : Dec 14, 2015 - 18:45
  • Updated : Dec 14, 2015 - 18:46

Bartomeu Mari, the new director of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, tried to play down a censorship controversy that erupted over his decision earlier this year to drop an exhibition at the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, which he headed at the time, during his first press conference as the head of MMCA in Seoul on Monday.

“I am against all sorts of censorship, and I stand for freedom of expression,” said Mari, announcing his plans for the museum during his three-year term from 2016-2018. Mari, the first foreign director to head the state-run museum in Korea, received his official letter of appointment from Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Kim Jong-deok earlier in the morning.

“I will enhance and upgrade the MMCA’s international capabilities,” he said. “I have a solid global network of artists, critics, museum directors and critics. I think I can contribute to the development of the museum in the global art scene.” 
Bartomeu Mari, the new director of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, takes questions at a press conference Monday in Seoul. (Yonhap)

He also envisioned the MMCA not as a “container” of art, but as an active player engaged in producing art.

“I see a museum as an institution that works with a variety of parties in order to produce things,” he said. “I see the audience as an active member, not a passive receptor.”

Since Mari‘s selection as one of the final candidates for the position of MMCA director in October, Korean artists have demanded a clear explanation of his alleged censorship, fearing it might continue at the MMCA.

In March, Mari canceled “The Beast and the Sovereign” at the MACBA a day before the opening because of a sculpture depicting sodomy involving former Spanish King Juan Carlos, Bolivian labor leader Domitila Chungara and a dog. However, the exhibition opened as scheduled and Mari resigned.

“I hope I can be judged by what I do here, not what some people say happened in the past,” he said.

He refuted other claims, such as firing museum curators following the censorship controversy, saying he could provide official documentation for what happened. Two curators in charge of the exhibition were fired shortly after Mari resigned.

More than 800 Korean artists released a statement on Mari’s appointment as the new MMCA director on Dec. 4. In the statement, artists demanded Mari pledge to prevent any censorship at the museum in the future. 

“The MMCA has to protect and expand artists’ freedom of expression and the museum’s independence even if it faces a difficult situation,” the statement read.

The statement was sent to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism on Monday to coincide with Mari’s appointment ceremony in Seoul.

Those who joined the pledge include leading artists Kong Sung-hoon and Noh Sun-tag -- recipients of the MMCA’s Artist of the Year awards -- as well as filmmaker, artist and writer Park Chan-kyung and Kim Beom.

“Mari called his decision to drop the exhibition ‘The Beast and the Sovereign’ at the MACBA ‘curatorship,’ and that it was necessary to protect the museum. But we (Petition 4 Art) see it as censorship,” said Park, in an interview with local daily Kyunghyang Shinmun in November.

Since November, some 10 artists have held solo protests individually in front of the museum in Seoul, opposing the ministry’s decision to appoint Mari as the new director and its lack of transparency in the process of appointing the museum director.

The MMCA director position had been left vacant for more than a year following former director Jeong Hyeon-min’s resignation in October 2014 over allegations of intervening in the museum’s recruitment process in order to get an acquaintance hired.

By Lee Woo-young (wylee@heraldcorp.com)