South Korea's art community expresses concerns about new museum director

Bartomeu Marí, the new director of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, attempted to ban a satirical sculpture from an exhibition during his previous role in Barcelona

15 Dec 2015
Bartomeu Marí at the charity launch of a calander at the MACBA, where he controversially resigned earlier this year. Credit: Flick/Mossos. Generalitat de Catalunya

Bartomeu Marí at the charity launch of a calander at the MACBA, from which he controversially resigned earlier this year. Credit: Flickr/Mossos. Generalitat de Catalunya

The South Korean art community has released a statement requesting that the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST) implement reforms to protect artistic freedom ahead of the appointment of Bartomeu Marí as director of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA).

The decision to appoint Marí has been met with objections due to his controversial resignation as director of the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA) in March, after he was accused of attempting to have a sculptor removed from an exhibition called La Bestia y el Soberano (The Beast and the Sovereign).

The satirical sculpture by Ines Doujak, titled Not Dressed for Conquering, featured former Spanish King Juan Carlos and Bolivian labour leader and feminist Domitila Chúngara involved in a sexual act with a dog on a bed of SS helmets. The exhibition went ahead despite Marí’s alleged attempts to cancel the whole exhibition when curators refused to remove the sculptor, leading to him firing two curators and his own resignation.

The Korean art community released their statement in November when Marí was the leading candidate for the position. They stated: “We demand that both the MMCA and its overseeing body, the MCST, offer plausible explanations regarding the appointment of the new MMCA director and institute full­y fledged reforms to protect and foster artistic freedom so they may perform the duties they were originally intended as proponents of the arts.”

They also used the statement, which has been signed by nearly 800 artists, to highlight their concerns about the South Korean government’s mounting censorship of and bureaucratic restrictions on artistic freedom. They state: “We strongly oppose all variants of censorship and surveillance that harm the autonomy of art, and we pledge multifaceted, continued efforts to recover the autonomy and independence of art.”

Marí, who is also currently the president of the International Committee for Museums and collections of Modern Art (CiMAM), was officially appointed as director on 2 December leading the group to release a new statement again asking the newly appointed director and the MCST institute reforms protecting artistic freedom, which would be submitted to the culture minister and director on his appointment today.

The new director took nearly two weeks to respond to the complaints by stating he opposes censorship of any kind. He told a press conference in Seoul: “I stand against all kinds of censorship, and I support the freedom of expression. These are my values.”

He added: “I am sad there are artists who opposed my nomination. But there are many who support me. I hope I can be judged by what I do here, not by what some people say happened in the past.”

4 responses to “South Korea’s art community expresses concerns about new museum director”

  1. I would like to express my solidarity with the Korean art community in their concern for an appointment that seems meant to perpetuate current government control over the arts.

    As for those supporting Mr Marí, it is dismaying that those commenting on this appointment are simply making up falsehoods. What is worse, why defend a man whose tenure at MACBA has been mediocre, lacking in vision, partial, and, in the end, disrespectful toward the Barcelona, Spain and world art community? At no time, it should be remembered, did he ever show the very least interest in Asian art, never mind Korean art, which he has never considered worthy to bring to MACBA in years of opportunities.

    Mr Mari simply speaks falsely in his statements about the case made afterwards, and further miscontrues the details so as to justify his poor decision. I do not, by this, wish to suggest that Mari was a regular censor. Some of his ideas about the collection were good, and he had a certain poety in how he hung shows–but the average level of his collecting and years of temporary shows was far inferior to his predecessor’s work.

    The real problem here, however, is that he is not honest. He was incompetent in approving a piece weeks in advance, with his own signature, that he then says he did not know about. He is untrue in the Seoul press conference that the firing of the exhibit’s MACBA curators did not have to do with him, when it very cynically and vindictively was. His argument about Spanish law, reiterated by other commentators here, was never invoked at the time, and never was until now in fact, for a simple reason: it is false. Proof of this is that the piece was shown in the end and no legal action was taken. If Mari is suggesting Spanish police and judges–responsible for initiating legal action– are deliberately ignoring law, that would in fact be illegal on their part; a grave accusation. Not even extreme monarchists and haters of artistic freedom complained about the work.

    The piece in no way violates Spanish law. If a figure looking like a monarch has a Bolivian activist on his back, in what anatomical world are you living in if you say that is sodomy? How many people believe that Bolivian woman have a way of sodomizing men from behind? This is fantasy deserving of a long psychoanalytical session.

    In fact, the entire claim is a subterfuge to ignore the real meaning of the piece: that South American has been violated repeatedly by colonial and economic powers. Bartomeu Mari never had the courage to defend this view and with it the piece, the artist, the curators, and his own integrity.

  2. Dear Bartomeu,
    My immediate reaction upon hearing there was a questionable work in a show about to open at
    MACBA was to look at the work. This work clearly violated Article 56 of the Spanish Constitution which
    memorializes the concept of lèse majesté. The Spanish monarch is held to be identical with the state and any
    denigration of the monarch is prohibited. A sculpture showing Juan Carlos being sodomized by a
    Bolivian feminist who is, in turn, sodomized by a wolf or German Shepherd is unambiguously denigration
    of the monarch.
    As director of a public institution, you were obliged to uphold the law, whether you liked it or not. Article 56 is amplified in the Spanish Penal Code, so it is a criminal offense. In all the protests I have never seen any mention of these constitutional and criminal issues. A more critical examination of the issue is long overdue.
    You consistently support freedom of expression. You do not support opening a public institution of which you are the director to legal sanctions.

  3. Pep montoya says:

    Benvolgut Bartomeu

    Felicitats pel nomenament

    Un cop més l’ombra allargada de les actituds preventives pren cos. S’ha de lluitar contra tot tipus de censura en qualsevol àmbit.

    Rep el meu suport i els millors desitjos pels teus projectes.

    Una forta abraçada

    P. M.

  4. PARAPONARIS Hervé says:

    Dear Bartomeu
    As an artist who has tasted the censorship, 20 years ago, I wanted here guarantee my full support. The hard part in this type of case is not the moment of the censorship, it is rather the closet years that follow. It’s like be out of prison and never be able to reintegrate in life or even in the profession. Because once censored, and often argued, we realize be branded by an entire profession which, at least, don’t want to take risk at that level. For the image, yes, people will shout but without acting, preserving their own business or job. What is human relation compare to home loans, fixed salaries, material comfort, hein? You shall now scared even the friends today. Those who will cry foul, freedom of expression but turn your back because you become difficult to sustain. Courage to you. I know you do not miss. Wholeheartedly and with all my strength with you. Truly. Hervé.