Daegu’s folly of a museum

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Daegu’s folly of a museum


Daegu city has announced a plan to build a large-scale public art museum, “Lee Ufan and His Friends.” The construction is to begin later this year in Duryu Park, Dalseo District, and will open in 2016. It will cost 29.7 billion won ($28.7 million) in total. Daegu will invest 18.4 billion won and the central government will subsidize 11.3 billion won.

Japanese architect Tadao Ando will design the building and its design and inspection will cost 3.4 billion won. Twelve of the 15 exhibition halls will be filled with the works of 78-year-old artist Lee, who resides in Japan, and his friends. Daegu announced the plan earlier this month, and Lee was invited to the city hall on Sept. 11 for the construction presentation.

Lee is an internationally acclaimed artist whose works are even on display at the Palace of Versailles in France. Versailles has been presenting an annual contemporary art exhibition since 2008, which Lee was invited to this year. It’s about time an art museum was dedicated to him in Korea.

But the plan leaves a bitter feeling. Daegu’s city government is debt-ridden. The municipal government’s debt was 2.3 trillion won as of last year. The debt-to-budget ratio is 28.1 percent, the second highest after Incheon’s 35.7 percent among Korea’s metropolitan cities and provinces, aside from Sejong City. Daegu doesn’t even have money to provide free school meals to all. According to the Ministry of Education, 44.3 percent of elementary, middle and high school students in Daegu get free school meals, the second lowest after Ulsan’s 33.7 percent.

Daegu wants to invest an enormous amount to build a large museum. The site is more than seven times that of the Nam June Paik Art Center in Yongin, Gyeonggi. While it cannot be directly compared to that center, which opened in October 2008, it will cost too much to build “Lee Ufan and His Friends.” The Nam June Paik Art Center cost 19.8 billion won to build, while the budget for Lee Ufan’s art museum is 29.7 billion won. That figure is 2.5 times Daegu’s free school meal budget of 12 billion won this year. And the city plans to give an additional 10 billion won to Lee for his art.

Of course, Daegu should have its own way. It wants to become a “global art and culture city” by exhibiting the work of a contemporary master. But Daegu didn’t properly research the project. Even local artists and cultural figures oppose the museum. Park Byeong-gu, chairman of the Daegu Artists Association, said, “It is nice to have a museum. But Daegu can only become a true city of arts and culture when the museum is not just for a certain group of artists but is open to all artists.”

*The author is a national news writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 12, Page 29

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