Sunjung Kim, who has served as president of the Gwangju Biennale Foundation since 2017, will leave her post at the organization that runs South Korea’s most notable biennial when her contract expires at the end of June. According to a report by ArtAsiaPacific, Kim’s departure follows her alleged misconduct detailed by the Gwangju Biennale Labor Union in April. The foundation is creating a committee to lead the search for its next president.
In a statement to the Korean newspaper Jeonnam Ilbo, a union representative said, “Contrary to the international reputation of Gwangju Biennale, the staff has been suffering from the president’s lack of leadership, the lack of principles and transparency in operations, as well as the abandonment of duty and abuse of authority by the head of the HR team.”
The Gwangju city government is now investigating the allegations against Kim. She has reportedly been the subject of complaints that the union filed via the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission, Gwangju’s Human Rights Office, and the National Human Rights Commission. ArtAsiaPacific also reports that, prior to this investigation, the chairman of the union said he faced retaliation for issuing complaints against Kim, and he subsequently resigned in early May.
In a statement issued after this article was initially published, Kim denied the claims, calling them “unfounded.” “During this process, I drew upon my thirty-year experience as a curator and eagerly sought the advice of the local artistic community as well as international colleagues if the issues were beyond my expertise,” she wrote on Facebook. In an email to ARTnews, a legal representative for Kim said that the allegations and her departure from the foundation not related.
Before taking the top post at the Gwangju Biennale Foundation, Kim, who is considered a leader in the South Korean art scene, worked as acting curator of the ninth Gwangju Biennale in 2012 and director of Seoul’s Artsonje Center from 2016 to 2017. She was also chief curator of the 2018 Gwangju Biennale.
The 2021 Gwangju Biennale, which closed on May 9 and was curated by Defne Ayas and Natasha Ginwala, was one of a handful of international exhibitions to take place in-person this year following pandemic-related postponements.
Update, 7/22/21, 2 p.m.: This article has updated to include a statement from Kim, who denies the union’s allegations against her.