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On September 12, the director of Seoul’s National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, BARTOMEU MARÍ, revealed that his contract with the Museum will not be renewed. Image via Bartomeu Mari’s Facebook.

In a public letter released on September 12, Bartomeu Marí made the surprise announcement that he will be stepping down from his post as director of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) in South Korea following the end of his three-year tenure in December this year. This quick turn of events came after the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (the museum’s founding organization) revealed their decision to issue an open call for Marí’s successor on September 11.

Of his time at MMCA, Marí said, “I have experienced and continue to experience this chapter of my professional life as a real honour and privilege. […] I have acquired an unforgettable wealth of knowledge of modern and contemporary art of Korea through serving the MMCA. I will continue to be its champion with the wish that its reputation will further grow across the world.”

Following a public demand for institutional reform after the forced resignation of Chung Hyung-min in 2014, who was accused of nepotism and preferential hiring, Marí took up his current position in December 2015, becoming the first non-Korean to lead a public cultural institution in South Korea. Previously, he directed the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) from 2008 to 2015, and was president of the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art between 2014 and 2016.

Marí, who oversaw the exhibition, public programs and collections, has been fundamental in establishing MMCA’s identity as a significant forum for visual culture. The museum’s exhibition scope expanded significantly under his leadership to not only encompass Korean art history, but to also present international art from a local and regional perspective.

Marí, for his remaining time as director, aims to work on completing the 2018 exhibition programs, as well as developing a plan for future projects in hopes of implementing a smooth order of operations during the museum’s time of transition. Yet with a fourth branch opening in Cheongju in May 2019, it is stil unclear as to how the institution, which is still viewed by many as largely conservative and under the control of government, will sustain Marí’s spirit of progression. 

Julee WJ Chung is the assistant editor of ArtAsiaPacific.

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