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Selection of Korean pavilion curator for Venice Biennale embroiled in cronyism controversy

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View of the Central Pavilion in the Giardini at the Venice Biennale / Courtesy of the Venice Biennale
View of the Central Pavilion in the Giardini at the Venice Biennale / Courtesy of the Venice Biennale

By Park Han-sol

The selection of the curator of the Korean pavilion at the 59th Venice Art Biennale next year has been embroiled in a cronyism controversy, prompting the Arts Council Korea (ARKO) to make an unprecedented move to nullify its earlier decision and reevaluate all 12 applicants.

Last month, the council selected four candidates in the first round of the screening process, who then went through a second round of interviews. The four applicants were competing for the position to curate the Korean pavilion at the Biennale's International Art Exhibition next April.

As ARKO considered the finalists to select the winner, it was discovered that two of the interviewees had connections to one of the judges. They were found to have been working in the same organization, sparking controversy over conflicts of interest. There is a rule in state-run institutions that such incidents should prompt the involved selection committee member to be excluded from the screening process.

After belatedly learning about the procedural flaw, the council has decided to exclude the judge from the selection committee and start over the entire review process for 12 candidates.

A total of six members will form the review panel: Busan Museum of Art Director Ki Hye-kyung, Seoul Museum of Art Director Baek Ji-sook, Seoul National University Art Professor Shin Chung-hoon, Independent Curator Hyun See-won, Yoon Shung-chun of the culture ministry's arts policy bureau and Park Doo-hyun of ARKO. The selected candidate is scheduled to be announced in the fourth week of July.

Dubbed the "Olympics of the Art World," the Venice Biennale has been one of the most prestigious cultural institutions since it was founded in 1895. More than 60 national pavilions, represented by each country's curator, showcase to the international audience a wide range of works fitting the Biennale's theme.

Typically, the Biennale's International Art Exhibition has been held in odd-numbered years, while the Architecture Exhibition has taken place in even-numbered years. However, after the 17th Architecture Biennale in 2020 was pushed back a year due to the spread of COVID-19, the 59th Art Biennale has also been delayed, and will take place from April 23 to Nov. 27, 2022. Cecilia Alemani, director and chief curator of High Line Art, a public art program for New York City's Highline Park, will be the curator of next year's event.
Park Han-sol


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