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[Exclusive] MMCA postpones Paik Nam-june festival, once again

Paik Nam-june’s “The More the Better” (MMCA)
Paik Nam-june’s “The More the Better” (MMCA)
The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea’s plan to celebrate the legacy of South Korea’s pioneering video artist Paik Nam-june will be canceled again this year, with an exhibition dedicated to Paik unlikely to happen for a second year in a row, according to the museum.

Earlier this year, MMCA Director Yun Bum-mo announced a “large-scale festival” would be held to shed light on Paik’s legacy, including an opening the exhibition titled “After the More the Better," which would coincide with the unveiling of the artist’s largest artwork “The More the Better,” located in the museum’s Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province, venue following a major restoration.

The museum’s ambitious “festival” is unlikely to happen this year, as the restoration is taking longer than expected due to “some difficulties in the restoration process,” according to a museum source. The recent donation of a large art collection by the late Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee also had a part in putting off the planned festival this year, the source told The Korea Herald.

“The 1,003 monitors will be either repaired or replaced. We are having some difficulties obtaining (CRT) monitors and there are not many technicians who can repair the artworks. Under the current plan, we will complete the restoration this year and test-run the artwork by the first half of next year,” a public relations official from the museum told The Korea Herald.

The work to restore the 18.5-meter-tall, 16-ton media tower consisting of 1,003 television monitors began in 2019. Most of the bulky cathode-ray tube monitors will be maintained intact while the museum seeks other options that will ensure both safety and function. The antiquated monitors that cannot be fixed will be replaced with newer ones.

Lee’s donation made in April also affected the museum's plan to host the Paik exhibition and the restoration of “The More the Better,” according to the museum source. The museum received 1,369 of the 23,000 artworks in Lee’s collection. It will host a special exhibition showcasing Lee’s donation in July, moving up the date from August, reflecting nationwide interest in the collection.

“We can’t deny that the issue affected the restoration plan for ‘The More the Better’ and Paik’s exhibition, although they are different issues,” the official said.

Some experts said an exhibition dedicated to Paik was an unfeasible plan in the first place, considering the copyright issues surrounding Paik’s works.
This is the second consecutive time the museum has called off its plan to host an exhibition of Paik’s works. Early last year, Yun announced that the museum would host the “largest-ever” archival exhibition dedicated to Paik. That exhibition failed to materialize, with Yun explaining that the museum was resolving a long-running issue with copyrights by continuing to contact the copyright holder of Paik’s works.

“Pushing for a Paik exhibition is possible, but the problem is that it is not possible to publish exhibition catalogues containing Paik’s works. It’s a responsibility of the national museum to persuade the copyright holder and maintain a good relationship with him,” a museum official said. “The museum is sparing no efforts in trying to resolve the issue.”

Upon Paik’s death in 2006, ownership of the works was transferred to Ken Hakuta, a nephew of the artist, for the next 70 years. Hakuta has alleged in the past that the Korean government and Korean art industry pirated Paik‘s works without recognizing copyright.

By Park Yuna (