LACMA curator to head Korean department at Asian Art Museum of San Francisco


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Hyonjeong Kim Han, a curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, has been named curator of Korean art at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Kim, who will assume her new duties July 1, will be responsible for one of the most comprehensive overseas collections of Korean art at one of the largest Asian art museums in the Western world.


At LACMA, Kim was instrumental in last year’s re-installation of the Korean art galleries -- the largest such galleries outside of Korea. She joined the museum in 2006 and has served as associate curator of Chinese and Korean art and as the department’s acting head and curator.

‘During her four years at LACMA, Hyonjeong has carried the collection and the display of Korean art forward in a major way, capped with the reopening of the substantial galleries in the Hammer Building,’ says Nancy Thomas, LACMA deputy director.

Among Kim’s accomplishments, says Thomas, was negotiating the rare loan of the late-6th century bronze Pensive Bodhisattva, a Korean national treasure.

In San Francisco, Kim will head the Korean department and oversee a collection that contains approximately 800 objects including sculpture, ceramics, paintings, textiles and metalwork and spans 2,500 years.

‘Hyonjeong’s track record of curating collections and special exhibitions, deftly managing the often complex elements of international museum relations, and building community support and fundraising will enable the museum to continue to be a leader in this field,’ says Jay Xu, director of the Asian Art Museum, which became the first museum outside Korea to establish a curatorship in Korean art two decades ago.

Kim, a specialist in 18th and 19th century Korean and Chinese paintings, studied art history at Seoul National University in her native South Korea and at UC Santa Barbara. She taught art history and did research in Korea before coming to LACMA.

‘The decision to move is difficult because I’ve had such a valuable experience in L.A.,’ says Kim. But she anticipates ‘so many exciting opportunities ahead,’ given the Asian Art Museum’s long history with Korean art and its focus on Asia.

‘I have come to see that instead of looking at LACMA and San Francisco as separate I need to look at doing what I can to let people know about Korean art,’ she says. ‘I don’t want to be bound by the location of where I’m doing it.’

‘Traditionally,’ she says, ‘Korean art has been marginalized as an adjunct to Chinese or Japanese art. I’ve wanted to correct that. It’s beautiful and quite different than other cultures and it needs independent space and attention.’

One big step toward gaining such attention was the re-opening of the LACMA galleries. Kim says museum director Michael Govan ‘loves Korean art and was very supportive. And now the new gallery is quite prominent on the LACMA campus.’

In her new job, she plans to find new ways to promote Korean art. One challenge, she acknowledges, will be adjusting to ‘a bit less space’ after opening the galleries here.

‘I will have to think cleverly about how to do this,’ she says. ‘It will be fun.’

-- Karen Wada

Related: LACMA presents a fuller image of Korea