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  • Nov 15, 2011

Uncertainty as MOCA Korea Director Resigns

The National Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Korea, at Gwacheon in Seoul’s south. Courtesy MOCA, Korea.

Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Korea (MOCA), Bae Soon-hoon, peremptorily resigned in mid-October, despite being only months away from the end of his term. Sixty-nine-year-old Bae was determined to leave after members of the National Assembly scolded him for his “bad attitude” during an October 7 parliamentary audit. He had apparently offended members with his “disrespectful” body language, which included crossing his legs and putting his hand in his pocket during the audit. He apologized for his actions six times before tendering his resignation.

Bae, a former CEO of Daewoo Electronics, and ex-Minister of Information and Communication, was appointed director in late 2009, despite having no previous arts administration experience. His appointment was made following the highly politicized termination of former MOCA director Kim Yoon-soo amidst what is seen as a targeted reshuffling of the arts environment by the Lee Myoung-bak administration. Kim was dismissed a year before his contract ended, a termination that was subsequently ruled to be unlawful, granting him back-pay.

On the other hand, it was hoped that Bae, known for his demanding managerial approach—colloquially described as “Tank-ism”—would introduce a more business-like environment, emulating the corporate structure of world-class institutions such as the Guggenheim Foundation. Despite Bae’s bureaucratic savvy, the original “managerial” goal of under his tenure was not realized: his administrative rating, by an independent agency, dropped from an “A” in 2009 to a “D” in 2010. Nevertheless, his personal connections have been a boon for the museum, his considerable clout meaning that large projects have often been approved more quickly than expected.

In its largest undertaking during Bae’s term, MOCA announced plans to open a third branch in 2013 on the site of the restored Kimusa hospital in Sogyeok-dong, though some argue that the building’s new role as an art institution makes light of its violent history. The historical landmark is fraught with painful memories, having been built in 1928 as a military hospital by Japanese colonial authorities. In the 1950s, after the establishment of South Korea, it was transformed into the Defense Security Command Complex, where the authoritarian government allegedly tortured dissidents.

At the site’s June 2011 ground-breaking ceremony, Bae told the Associated Press: “It is a place of terrible tragedy. However, to transform the pain and turn it into a place where people can come and enjoy [themselves]—that’s a wonderful thing.” The new museum will be named UUL National Museum of Art.

While Bae’s lack of experience in the arts was criticized by some, one staff member has cited fears about budget cuts and delays at the Kimusa site without someone as influential at the helm. It is unclear whether the government will select another bureaucrat-style manager to lead the institution, or an arts veteran like the ousted Kim. In the interim MOCA’s Secretary General of Planning and Management, Yun Nam-seon, has been appointed acting director.

Rendition of the

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