Korean artists protest appointment of former Barcelona museum director due to censorship concerns

Bartomeu Marí—the new director of MMCA in Seoul—stepped down earlier this year over controversial sculpture exhibit


A Korean campaign group has launched a petition protesting the appointment of Bartomeu Marí, the new director of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) in Seoul, South Korea. Marí was embroiled in a censorship dispute earlier this year at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona (Macba).

Marí will replace the museum’s acting director Kim Jeongbae. “We expect Marí will help the MMCA to gain a concrete foundation to upgrade into a global art museum,” the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism said in a statement.

This March, Marí resigned as the director of Macba over a controversial installation that went on display in the museum’s exhibition The Beast and the Sovereign. The piece, by the Austrian artist Ines Doujak, shows the former Spanish monarch Juan Carlos in a sexual act with a dog.

Marí initially cancelled the show on the eve of the launch, saying that exhibiting the installation could create a “serious crisis for the museum”. He later recanted and opened the exhibition to the public on 21 March. A few days later, Marí stepped down from his position.

The Korean group petition4art has initiated two petitions linked to Mari's move. Last month, more than 830 Korean artists, curators and cultural figures, including the Seoul-based film-maker Park Chan-kyong and the Berlin-based artist Haegue Yang, signed the first petition, which opposed Marí's candidacy. Petition4art told the Hyperallergic website that it was concerned with the handling of the Macba incident.

After Marí’s appointment in Seoul earlier this month, a second petition was launched on 3 December, which has so far amassed 450 signatures. A spokesperson for petition4art said that the ministry of culture “must not attempt any kind of censorship… We also ask the new director for a public declaration of ethics where he states clearly his will to stand against any kind of censorship and control or pressure from the authorities.”

Marí has written to petition4art saying he opposes “all sorts of censorship”. He wrote: “I believe that the only way art can play a role in society is by being produced, presented and received in freedom, without impositions or restrictions.”

Marí also defends his actions at Macba: he says that exhibiting Ines Doujak’s work could have also led the Spanish government to take legal action against the museum’s board of directors for insulting the former king, whose “image is protected by law”.

The MMCA has two branches in Seoul and another in the South Korean city of Gwacheon. The institution’s national art conservation centre is due to launch in Cheongju, in the south of the country, in 2019.