Visit his museum but don’t buy this man’s Mercedes

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Visit his museum but don’t buy this man’s Mercedes

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The very affable Kim Jong-kyu By Choi Seung-shik

“The key lies with people. All problems are caused or solved by interacting with others,” said Kim Jong-kyu, the former chairman of the Korean Museum Association, explaining how he managed to expand the association to five times its original size.
His interpersonal skills might be the whole secret behind how Mr. Kim led his organization so successfully for the past eight years. He simply loves being around people, and they like him in return.
Mr. Kim announced his retirement from the association this month, but he has been named its honorary chairman. His work with some 500 museums across the country will continue. Wherever he goes, he talks about museums. His work has transformed Korea’s museums.
“The last eight years were a growth period for the association,” Mr. Kim said. “Museums are a starting point for education. It’s time for Korea’s museum culture to reach the world-class level. Our museums need to become destinations for discerning foreign travellers.”
In 1999, when he was appointed as the third president of the association, it had around 100 member institutions and most of them were small and privately owned. However, under Mr. Kim’s affable stewardship, the number rose rapidly and when major museums such as the National Museum of Korea and the National Folk Museum joined, they elevated the prestige of the association, which has now become an important arena for communication between museums.
After 2003 the association’s membership was broadened by the inclusion of institutions such as the Kim Ku Museum and Library, Dosan Ahn Chang-ho Memorial Hall and the War Memorial of Korea. Mr. Kim’s role was substantially enhanced by the growth of the association and the role he played as a co-ordinator of events.
“Hosting the 2004 International Council of Museums General Conference in Seoul, a first in Asia, as the chairman of the committee, and working on the promotion committee of the new National Museum in Yongsan in 2006 are my most memorable accomplishments,” said Mr. Kim.
Korea’s museum man has become a well-known figure in cultural circles because of his leadership and sociability. Often referred to as a master of social courtesy, he emphasizes the importance of what he calls “leadership through communication.”
“Interaction and communication are the key skills of leaders. Creative ideas are generated through interaction,” he said.
Mr. Kim is an indispensable figure in Korean high society. Be it a museum, gallery, theater, publishing or religious event, he is often the key figure.
“I probably deliver the most congratulatory notes and messages at cultural events, second to only Mr. Lee O-young, the former Minister of Culture and Tourism,” said Mr. Kim, who is proud of his celebrity status.
Mr. Kim enjoys his role as the channel of communication between people. His personality and the personal network he built while working at Samsung Books during the 60s are his greatest assets.
The Samsung Museum of Publishing, which Mr. Kim owns, is referred to as “Kim Jong-kyu’s Salon.” Every Wednesday evening he invites distinguished figures there for the Samsung Museum of Publishing Academy lectures. Among the popular lectures that have taken place are “Eastern Philosophy” by Kim Chang-ryeol, former professor at Korea University, “Korean History” by Kim Sang-hyeon, professor at Dongguk University, and “Russian History” by Lee In-ho, former Korean ambassador to Russia.
An anecdote involving the celebrity Buddhist monk Jung-gwang, well known for his profound writings and drawings, reflects on Mr. Kim’s sense of humor. He first met Jung-gwang in 1976 when he attended an organization meeting of the Minjung Museum Association in Seoul. They had dinner and a lot of drinks after the event.
“I told my driver to escort Jung-gwang to his hotel. However, on the way he accidentally urinated inside the car. After hearing about it from my driver, I joked that my car must have been the best car with the best toilet facilities,” he recalled.
He said his car was better than a ordinary Mercedes because his is a “benso,” or byeonso ― in other words a toilet.
“Hearing what I said about the incident, Jung-gwang called me. We have been closest of friends ever since,” Mr. Kim said.
The scene where the Jung-gwang character urinates inside a taxi in Kim Su-yong’s biographical film “Idle Talk” is said to be based on the incident inside Mr. Kim’s car.
Buddhist monk Choi Beom-sul and poet Ku Sang have been Mr. Kim’s instructors in interaction and culture. Mr. Choi taught him the genuine taste of traditional tea and Buddhist doctrine, while Mr. Ku has been a true friend to him despite the twenty-year age difference.
As the honorary chairman of the association and the director of the Cultural Foundation of the National Museum, Mr. Kim’s dedication toward museums continues. “Mr. Kim has played a crucial role in shaping the association,” says his successor Bae Ki-dong, the head of Hanyang University Museum.


By Bae Young-dae JoongAng Ilbo [estyle@joongang.co.kr]
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