Seminar VI - Sunghui Lee, Hyejung Jang
Experimenting within Limitations
Ye Ji Hong (DCW 2021)
1. The Particularity of Exhibitions at Corporate Museums and Curating Independently — Sunghui Lee, Curator for HITE Collection
HITE Collection puts on art exhibitions hosted by the Hite Cultural Foundation (a public non-profit organization) and sponsored by HiteJinro Co., Ltd. In 2010 the Hite Cultural Foundation established HITE Collection to share the collection artist Kwon Jin-kyu's sculptures and Suh Do Ho's Cause & Effect with the general public. In its early years, 1st Anniversary Exhibition of HITE Collection focused on curating feature exhibitions that centered around the museum’s collection, but recently, it has focused on showcasing exhibitions of paintings or work by young artists. Curator Sunghui Lee has worked for HITE Collection since 2012, organizing a number of exhibitions including Our Awesome Moments (2015), Twin Peaks (2016), I, Etcetera (2020), and In Bloom (2021). During the seminar, we examined how HITE Collection organizes and develops young artists’ exhibitions, its current focus. These exhibitions are organized through a system in which established artists with experience in the art scene are invited to nominate noteworthy, up-and-coming artists as candidates. At first, Lee struggled to find reliable nominators, and eventually set the project’s direction by focusing on “how established artists and rising artists perceive each other.” She has continued to manage the project in this manner, and the exhibitions have led to a growing positive perception of young artists.
Lee also shared real-life issues that curators may encounter while working at a private art museum run by a corporate such as HiteJinro Co., Ltd. HiteJinro Co., Ltd almost always prefers traditional paintings and exhibitions that could be harmonized smoothly with their permanent collection that installed in the space. Meanwhile, curators, as professionals, strive to constantly organize exhibitions that showcase their curatorial skills. In other words, as they must consider a company’s affiliations and public image, curators must always compromise to a certain extent when developing exhibitions for corporations. Lee endeavors to create effective exhibitions within such boundaries. Her secret is to create timely exhibitions, focusing on presenting paintings, listening attentively to artists who come to HITE Collection, and addressing concerns that are raised onsite. She has also organized group exhibitions that feature aspects of trends in Korean art by holding forums in which established artists and young artists can come together. As an independent curator, she realizes experimental ideas through small-scale projects such as artist Yun Choi’s The Shape of Today (2015). In these projects, she aims to create exhibitions that focus on what Harald Szeemann calls “individual mythology”—in other words, the personal narratives of the artists or the curators—rather than the larger discourses of art history.
2. An (Independent) Curator’s Work: Moving between the Means and the End — Hyejung Jang, Curator for DOOSAN Gallery
Hyejung Jang had worked as a coordinator at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA) and as a curator at the Kumho Museum of Art. She subsequently worked as independent curator and recently started curating for DOOSAN Gallery. During the seminar, she presented cases of her work as an independent curator, sharing ways to sustain one’s curatorial work while maintaining the balance between oneself, one’s colleagues, and related people or entities. In particular, she concentrated on exploring issues that she experienced when she runs WESS, a curators’ co-operating platform with other curators. Jang stated that she organizes exhibitions and programs in which she can “address issues shared by everyone with a rather light gesture,” also mentioning that she wants to continue to create a forum where she can freely attempt projects that would be difficult to realize if affiliated with a particular institution. While forming a loose bond of solidarity with fellow curators who share this goal, she has made numerous efforts to create such an environment, one in which she could work in the manner that best suits her. In terms of curatorial content, she reflected on “the confidence she has about projects as a curator,” and examined how to turn outside commissions into a win-win situation for both parties by collaborating with others.
For instance, in the recent feature exhibition held at WESS titled We’re all sick and in love (2021), she confronted the limitations brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and depicted the ways in which artists and curators have been weathering the difficult times together with a heartwarming gaze. Hare Way Object (2020), which opened at Deoksugung Palace, introduced contemporary artists working in Asia to the general public. In the exhibition, she presented themes she wanted to address and an awareness she wished to display as a curator while carefully considering spectators’ needs and navigating the delicate issues that accompany cultural assets. She has continuously supported the belief that it is possible to “be oneself” even when one does not concentrate on a particular field or keyword. She also emphasized that by striving to organize exhibitions that “one is truly believes in and want to create” within the changing environment, the trajectory of the exhibitions one develops throughout one’s curatorial career will naturally show one’s individuality as a curator.
In this seminar, which focused on real-life/practical cases from curators Sunghui Lee and Hyejung Jang, we were able to explore how one can manage independent curatorial work under different organizational limitations and conditions. There is no such thing as a situation without restrictions, and curators always try to develop exhibitions “as freely as possible” within given boundaries. At this point, freedom is actually closer to “autonomy.” Curators, as arbitrators and mediators, must maintain an exhibition’s message and critical viewpoint while coordinating all situational factors and related people and entities. Together, we were able to share our concerns and discuss what standards should be set in order for curators to work “happily” without losing one’s identity in the process.