Separation of art and commerceThe Ministry of Public Administration and Security released a plan to privatize the National Museum of Contemporary Art. As part of the incumbent administration’s restructuring of government agencies, the governing bodies of the National Museum of Contemporary Art, the National Theater of Korea and KTV will become incorporated bodies. This plan contains the political will of the new administration in its pursuit of pragmatism. It is time to come up with reform measures for the National Museum of Contemporary Art, considering the problems in the structure and management of the museum. However, it leaves one speechless to hear that the national museum will be privatized.
The privatization of a government body is carried out so that the organization may become independent in its management and financing. Thus, if the national museum is privatized it has no choice but to do its best to make a profit. Problems arise here. As the International Council of Museums stipulates, museums are in essence nonprofit bodies. Privatizing such an institution is against the principles set by the council, which operates under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Handing the national museum to the private sector is like telling it to limit its basic responsibilities of collecting and preserving historic items, conducting research and educating, all of which are essential jobs of a museum. The plan doesn’t fit into the era of globalization.
Profits and market principals are not major concerns for museums or galleries. Unlike theaters or performance halls, there is a limit to the profits that come from entrance fees. The new administration has recently released a plan to offer free tours of permanent exhibitions of the National Museum and the National Museum of Contemporary Art. But privatization will induce the museums to focus on renting out their exhibition spaces and putting on displays that will draw more people.
The Ministry of Public Administration and Security should have studied the situation in Japan before releasing its plan. Japan corporatized its national gallery in 2001 and is now coming under criticism for the decline in the international competitiveness of its contemporary arts and its quality of service in the sector. Japan is likely going down on the UN Development Programme’s Hu-man Development Index because the country has applied economic principles to the culture and arts sector.
Therefore, it is a bad idea to make the National Museum of Contemporary Art and the National Museum of Korea incorporated organizations. Some maintain that these museums must become national bodies, as they were before.
National museums or galleries in European countries and member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development are run by governments. That is because these countries are aware of the importance of increasing their people’s awareness of art and culture and establishing an image as culturally advanced nations.
In writing about the crisis of contemporary art galleries, Canadian commentator Yves Michaud severely criticizes what he sees as the fact that today’s galleries are turning into department stores and people involved in them are becoming like workers in profit-making companies. He argues that directors of galleries hold commercially profitable exhibitions to make more profits and sell more T-shirts and catalogues, turning galleries into a hotbed of ugliness, suspicion and disillusionment.
Art and politics are inseparable. Plato said art was the highest political skill and politicians were most suitable people to produce art. This view has served as philosophy in the running of Western states. Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser argued, in this context, that art is an instrument of ideology in enhancing a country’s governance. Ups and downs of Western countries have matched those of culture and art. Frenchmen André Malraux, who served as minister of culture in the Charles de Gaulle administration, and Jack Lang, François Mitterrand’s minister of culture, are still respected as national heroes because they promoted French culture inside and outside the country. Politics and art are similar. If politics is corrupt, art also feels tainted. If politics is decent, the beauty of art flows out into the world.
As the 21st century is often dubbed the era of culture and art, countries must protect art from commercial logic. Art’s commercial value increases when commercial logic is excluded from it. This is the paradox of art. The National Museum of Contemporary Art must be a place for experiment action, where politicians use their governing skills through art. The administration should propose another reform measure for the museum, one that is not bound by the market economy.