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  • Aug 31, 2018

Seoul Museum of Art Director Suspended Following Sexual Harassment Complaint

CHOI HYO-JUN has been suspended from his position as director of the Seoul Museum of Art while investigations are being made into sexual harassment allegations levelled against him. Image via Kyung Hyang News.

The director of the Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA), Choi Hyo-jun, was suspended from his position on July 19 following a sexual harassment complaint filed by a female museum employee. Choi had previously named himself as one of the co-curators of the 2018 edition of the Seoul Mediacity Biennale, which is due to open on September 6. 

Korean media reported that Choi sent an inappropriate video to an office employee at the museum, who filed a report with the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s Human Rights Center. Choi was suspended while the incident is under investigation. On July 25, Choi told Yonhap News that he has never made any inappropriate comments or sexually harassed an employee. In August, Chosun News reported that the video was not sexually explicit. Choi told the news outlet that the video was purely comedic, and that he enjoyed embracing popular culture as well as fine art. However, earlier in the year, Choi had been warned by the museum’s union to no longer contact female employees at a late hour using the Korean messaging service KakaoTalk. 

Choi began his career as a chief researcher at the Samsung Foundation of Culture in 1993 and went on to serve as director of the Jeonbuk Museum of Art (2004–09), then the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Deoksugung (2009–11) and the Gyeonggi Museum of Art (2011–15). In February 2017, he became the head of SeMA for a two-year term.

In February, Choi had upset some members of the Korean art community when he announced an all-male curatorial collective as the organizers of the 2018 Seoul Mediacity Biennale. The line-up includes: dance critic Nam Soo Kim; curator Jang-un Kim; Book Society director Kyung Yong Lim; Daul Jang, climate and energy team leader of Greenpeace; and Gibin Hong, director of the Global Political Economy Institute. 

Since his suspension, Choi’s name has been removed from the biennial’s list of co-curators. With the theme "Living Well," the biennial is meant to address a “fundamental question—what new values must humanity foster amid the anxiety and uncertainty that pervade today’s society?” Little information has been announced about Seoul Mediacity’s opening program, which coincides with the opening of biennials in Gwangju and Busan, during the busiest weeks of Korea’s contemporary art calendar. Sixty-six artists are scheduled to participate in Seoul Mediacity.

The previous director of SeMA, Kim Hong-hee, had served in the position for four years beginning in 2012 and is an accomplished curator. She founded the alternative Ssamzie Space in 1998 and directed it until 2008. The 2016 edition of Seoul Mediacity Biennale was curated by Beck Jee-sook with an all-female team of assistant curators, and was well received. 

HG Masters is the editor at large of ArtAsiaPacific.

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