Interview with Min Byoungchan, Korea

We met Min Byoungchan, Director of the National Museum of Korea (NMK).

Why do Europe-Asia relations matter to you?
Despite the distance, Asia and Europe have exchanged influences from long ago. The religions, arts and cultures that run across Asia and Europe form a crucial context for understanding our cultures in a broader and deeper sense. As a country with a long history and rich traditions, Korea has embraced and understood new, external influences and achieved its unique culture based on these. One good example is Buddhism, a fundamental element of Korean culture. Many aspects of Buddhism were formed through exchanges between East and West, and Korea developed its own Buddhist culture.

How important are international exchanges to the NMK?
As the most representative museum of Korea, the National Museum of Korea (NMK) provides opportunities to appreciate Korean traditional culture as well as diverse world cultures. We hold special exhibitions every year that introduce prominent overseas collections to Korea. We also recently opened the Egyptian Gallery and the World Ceramics Gallery in our permanent hall, which display cherished collections from around the world. International exchanges between museums are essential in this respect. They are fundamental to the National Museum of Korea’s status as one of the world’s major museums.
The exhibition A Passage to Asia, 25 centuries of exchange between Asia and Europe has now been launched in digital format, and the NMK participated with its Goreyo celadon. These bluish ceramics were created during the Goryeo Dynasty. The best-made celadon’s colour is similar to the shade of jade called celadon blue.

Can you tell us more about the Goryeo celadon works and how they came to Europe?
Korea developed ceramic technologies early on, and the two Goryeo celadon items in this exhibition are among the finest technological and artistic achievements of this type. Goryeo celadon wares were found on a Yuan merchant ship that was wrecked on Korea’s Sinan coast, which proves that Korean ceramics were traded internationally. It is also well known that, during the Joseon dynasty, Korean porcelain manufacturing technology was introduced to Japan, resulting in innovations in Japanese ceramics. The Japanese works then produced in this context were exported to Europe.

Celadon Pillow, National Museum of Korea, Seoul – © National Museum of Korea

My typical workday: “Listening to the thoughts of our visitors”

Arriving at the office every morning, I start my day by reading through newspapers. Then I attend the morning executive meeting on the museum’s current issues. The National Museum of Korea is a place where people can visit and relax at any time. In modern society, where everything changes at a rapid pace, the museum lets visitors take a break and step back from their lives. Creating such an environment requires work, and time flies in the morning, as I receive updates from various divisions and review and approve documents.
I have a simple lunch at noon in the staff cafeteria. In the afternoon, I usually have a look around our museum galleries, meet visitors or give interviews to the press. The National Museum of Korea works hard to communicate with the world by promoting international exhibition exchanges that are based on a solid sense of identity for our culture. As the directors are the face of the museum, it is very important for us to meet people from various fields and listen to their thoughts.
I leave the office at around 6 p.m. When I don’t have any dinner plans, I usually work out. On weekends, I go to see exhibitions or read books to get inspiration, and I have a good rest. I always hope that our visitors are able to appreciate the exhibitions without haste and to gain spiritual comfort by contemplating works in depth. Or perhaps they can gain some kind of inspiration at the museum. It is important to me that they feel the value of culture and everyday life in a peaceful venue with their family or neighbours – or just by themselves.

Min Byoungchan is Director of the National Museum of Korea (NMK)

© National Museum of Korea

The National Museum of Korea (NMK) is South Korea’s most comprehensive and extensive museum, with a collection of some 420,000 objects that illustrate thousands of years of cultural and historical heritage. The permanent galleries house a wide range of masterpieces, including simple Palaeolithic hand axes, a splendid gold crown, celadon ceramics and paintings from throughout Korean history. NMK hosts rich exhibitions on Korean art and world culture, enhanced by digital technologies and diverse facilities for all generations.