Friendlier face graces National Museum
By Kwon Mee-yoo
The National Museum of Korea is busy revamping exhibition design and organizing educational programs to be more accessible and easier on the eye for Korean and international visitors.
At the forefront of these efforts is Kim Young-na, the director of the museum. After taking the position in February 2011, Kim has been working hard to take care of the museum’s internal and external affairs while making trips to benchmark.
“I went to Cheongju National Museum yesterday and visited an excavation site of an iron-making site in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province, dating back to the 2nd century,” Kim said at a recent interview with The Korea Times.
The museum has more than 150,000 artifacts in its collection, but the displays are somewhat dull and not engaging enough to the design-savvy younger generation.
As an art historian with a background in archeology, Kim thinks it is important to view artifacts in context.
“Our displays might be a little bit old-fashioned compared to the top museums in the world,” the director said. “Most of the artifacts were displayed in low cases and visitors had to bend down to see them. Other people coming to the gallery will see their backs, not the relics.”
The museum renovated the Prehistory and Ancient History Section last year and the artifacts were displayed at eye level, which was previously where the explanatory panels were placed.
“The relics are the be-all and end-all at a museum and we want to make viewers concentrate on the artifacts with better displays and improved lighting,” she said.
The Buddhist Sculpture Gallery and the Metal Crafts Gallery are going through facelifts this year.
About one third of the museum’s visitors are students and Kim encourages children to visit the museum and experience as much as possible.
“We devised a variety of programs for children to tour the museum thoroughly, instead of just glancing and breezing through,” Kim said. “For example, we have a mentoring program for young students and university students explain the relics to them. It is like listening to their older brother or sister, so it feels more intimate than being attended by professional docents.”
With the introduction of the five-day school week, the museum offers weekend experience programs and curatorial workshops. The museum also has programs for students at the nearby U.S. Army Garrison in Yongsan.
Settled on a site over 100,000 square meters, the National Museum of Korea boasts the largest size in Asia with six permanent exhibition halls and more space for special exhibitions. Such grand scale might intimidate viewers, but Kim said it is better to view the entire museum.
“Many visitors only look around the history section on the first floor, covering from prehistory to early modern history, since the museum is so big. I know it is difficult to see this large museum in a day, but the painting, craft and Asian art galleries on the second and third floors should not be missed,” she said.
Kim advised that Wednesday and Saturday evenings when the museum is open until 9 p.m. are relatively quiet times to enjoy the museum. She is also keen to make the museum more comfortable and has added more resting areas and flower beds as a part of her initiative.