• News
  • Apr 18, 2023

MMCA Director Steps Down Amid Political Pressure

Portrait of YOUN BUMMO. Courtesy the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, South Korea. 

South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST) confirmed on April 18 that it had accepted the resignation of Youn Bummo from his position as the director of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA). Youn’s three-year term was supposed to last until early 2025.

While the exact reasons behind Youn’s resignation have not been announced, Korean media has speculated that Youn quit under political pressure, due to his liberal-leaning political stance and alleged connections with the former Moon Jae-in administration, which was run by the Democratic Party of Korea. Youn was first named as MMCA’s director in 2019 and reappointed in February 2022, just one month before the most-recent presidential election, which was won by Yoon Suk-yeol from the conservative People Power Party. The reappointment at the time sparked allegations of nepotism by the Moon Jae-in administration.

Since then, the MMCA has come under political scrutiny. In January this year, an audit report released by the MCST revealed 16 instances of illegal or unfair practices by the museum and pointed out questionable approaches in the museum’s acquisition process. Claims that office bullying and unfair personnel decisions went unaddressed by Youn might have also added pressure that led to his resignation.

During Youn’s tenure, the MMCA’s collection expanded to more than 10,000 works, with a focus on Korean modern and contemporary art. The museum also enhanced its online experiences during the pandemic. One of the main exhibition programs overseen by Youn, “Only the Young: Experimental Art in South Korea 1960s-1970s,” which is a collaboration between MMCA and its international partners at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, is scheduled to run from May to July as the MMCA’s summer blockbuster.

Park Jong-dal, head of the MMCA’s Planning and General Management Bureau, will serve as the interim acting director of the museum while the government announces plans to start recruiting a new leader for the museum next month.

Subscribe to ArtAsiaPacific’s free weekly newsletter with all the latest news, reviews, and perspectives, directly to your inbox each Monday.