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MMCA Director Youn pledges improvement after special audit finds illegalities

By Park Yuna

Published : Jan. 10, 2023 - 22:14

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Youn Bum-mo, director of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea speaks at a press conference Tuesday to announce this year's exhibitions. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald) Youn Bum-mo, director of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea speaks at a press conference Tuesday to announce this year's exhibitions. (Park Yuna/The Korea Herald)

Youn Bum-mo, director of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, said on Tuesday that while it is “unfortunate” the museum was subjected to a special audit, he would use the audit results to improve the museum.

At a press conference that had been scheduled to announce the museum's plans for the year, including its lineup of exhibitions and projects, Youn briefly spoke on the audit report released Monday. However, questions from press were mostly about the Culture Ministry's special audit of the state museum.

The audit report said it had found 16 cases of illegal and inappropriate actions. The special audit took place from Oct. 24 to Dec. 1 last year.

The Culture Ministry admitted that the release of the audit report to the press is unprecedented, but declined to speak about the decision. “It was internally discussed,” an official from the ministry told The Korea Herald.

Youn said the museum's decision to cut the number of outside specialists involved in purchasing works of art was for the sake of "efficiency." The special audit report pointed out that the museum failed to reflect the diversity in purchasing artworks by reducing the number of external experts from 50 to 11 in 2021.

“We can expand the number of experts to as many as 100, but that is not efficient at all. So we sorted the experts to those who would be actively involved in the process,” Youn said.

Youn, however, did not mention how the purchase of artworks at auction will be made more transparent.

The report said seven or eight employees were involved in purchasing art at auctions, communicating using KakaoTalk, a mobile messaging app. The ministry urged the museum to come up with strict guidelines on acquiring artwork.

The audit report showed the museum “had raised the purchase price of seven artworks,” exceeding the amount recommended by the appraisal committee by as much as 50 million won. The ministry, however, later clarified that not all of those works were bought.

“We never purchased artworks at a price that is higher by as much as 50 million won than that suggested by the museum’s appraisal committee (as widely understood),” Youn said.

“Usually, the appraisal committee sets prices quite tightly, even cutting 50 percent of the price suggested by the seller,” Youn said, hinting that adjustment of the price set by the appraisal committee and a seller is inevitable on occasions.

Meanwhile, the museum this year will focus on presenting exhibitions aimed at strengthening international ties. The museum will collaborate with the Guggenheim Museum in New York City to show South Korea’s experimental art from the 1960s to the 1970s, presenting the show in May in Seoul and September in New York.

The exhibition “Prayer for Life” that features color paintings in Korean art shown at MMCA Gwacheon will travel to San Diego Museum of Art in October.

The solo exhibition of Korean artist Kim Ku-lim, a leader in experimental art in the 1960s and the ’70s, will open in August, coinciding with the second edition of Frieze Seoul, which takes place Sept. 6 to 9.

The museum will publish a catalog of Lee Kun-hee’s collection this year, donated to the museum in 2021.

By Park Yuna (yunapark@heraldcorp.com)