Sook-Kyung Lee, senior curator of international art at Tate Modern, has been named artistic director of the 2023 edition of South Korea’s Gwangju Biennale, which is among the most well-respected biennials in Asia. The biennial is set to open in April of that year.
Her appointment marks the first time one curator has helmed the biennial solo since 2006, when Seoul Museum of Modern Art director Kim Hong-hee organized the exhibition. It’s also the first time a person born in Korea has organized the biennial since Kim’s edition.
For much of her career, Lee has been based outside South Korea, the country where she was born. Prior to working at Tate Modern, she held posts at Tate Liverpool and the Tate Research Centre. At Tate Modern, she recently curated a celebrated Nam June Paik retrospective, as well as “A Year in Art: Australia 1992,” a survey focused on Indigenous art and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land rights.
In its announcement, the Gwangju Biennale Foundation, which facilitates the biennial, said it had picked Lee because she had helped bring Korean art to a global audience. In particular, the biennial praised her Korean Pavilion for the 2015 Venice Biennale, which featured work by Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho.
While an official theme was not yet detailed for the 2023 Gwangju Biennale, the biennial said it would focus on what it called “Gwangju Spirit,” which it defined as an attempt to relate the South Korean city to a global context. The biennial also said it would prioritize a “planetary vision” that “respects racial, cultural, and historical diversity.”
“The role of art is to address our shared crisis and to propose future directions: race and class conflicts, climate emergency and environmental concerns, and the pandemic caused by COVID-19 are such crises on a planetary dimension that artists of our time are exploring,” Lee said in a statement. She promised a “commitment to a non-Western perspective,” and added, “A transformation of relationship between centers and peripheries, truly equal connections and exchanges and a vision for better human communities will all be present.”