Envoy’s wife, art are a natural fit

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Envoy’s wife, art are a natural fit


Chung Jae-eun, the wife of Amb. Sung Y. Kim.

Chung Jae-eun, the wife of U.S. Ambassador Sung Y. Kim, sat down last month to talk about the U.S government’s cultural diplomacy program, Art in Embassies. Lee Ji-yoon, the head of the management department at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art’s Seoul branch, interviewed Ms. Chung.

Q. When did the Art in Embassies program begin?

A. It was established in 1963 as a U.S. Department of State official program by President John F. Kennedy. It is a program that aims to introduce American artists, as well as those from the host country, as part of our nation’s public diplomacy. Currently, the program is active in 200 American embassies, residences and consulates around the world.

Each venue displays permanent or temporary art exhibitions and publishes brochures related to the exhibition.

How does that process work exactly?

At the Department of State, which oversees the program, there is a head art director and several curators and specialists. Generally, AIE borrows the works from the host countries’ museums or galleries and displays the art in the designated venues. However, even if a local artist is selected, that is not a guarantee that his or her works will be included in the exhibition. The AIE team has to report to Washington the exhibition’s main theme and background information about the choice of that specific artist. This complicated process is followed even for the exhibition hall’s furniture and ornamental arrangements.

It was interesting to learn that many Korean-American artists active in America were chosen as part of the exhibition. What was the standard in selecting the artists?

Among many other criteria, I wanted to choose the works of Korean artists. There are many contemporary Korean artists working in the United States, and I wanted to give an opportunity to the general public here to get to know these artists.

At the embassy residence’s open house event on Sept. 21, 2012, Ambassador Kim said that one of the things he most enjoyed here was preparing for the exhibition. What was the preparation process like?

Under the concept “Context Revisited,” we wanted to provide a new look to ordinary materials and the events that happen in our daily lives.

Each work is site-specific, meaning that it fits very well in the venue where it is installed. In that sense, our exhibition’s art works exude an Oriental feeling that matches well with this hanok (Korean-style house).

Did your major in western painting at Ewha Womans University help while preparing for the exhibition?

I studied art when I was a student and I still like it very much. My husband and I used to have numerous discussions about which artist’s works should be on display. My husband said that reaching an agreement with me was harder than negotiating with the North Koreans.

Can you as a curator give a little more explanation of the exhibition?

One of the notable works is Lee Sung-mi’s installation art piece that is made with melted plastics. When the diamond powder that is scattered inside the art piece meets the light, it creates a brilliant allure that nobody would expect from this common material.

Do you buy any of the displayed works after the exhibition is over?

As a matter of principle, we do not.

By lee ji-yoon, contributing writer [janna924@joongang.co.kr]

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