We were fortunate enough to interview curator So-Ok Park about her career, curatorial process and her most recent show In/visible: Things to be Discussed.
How did you get to become an independent curator?
I enjoyed scribbling stuff on papers and making things out of eraser shavings when I was young, but I never thought of myself as an artist. I honestly enjoyed appreciating art and art exhibitions more than making them. I think I always knew that I was more of an observer than a creator. But I always admired people who had creative abilities. My father was an art teacher and took me to various art exhibitions when I was young. So I can say that part of this came from my early childhood experience. Instead of becoming an art maker, I decided to become a cultural facilitator. I got some great opportunities to work at several art and cultural institutions in Korea, and I found that I enjoyed creating programs that allowed people to engage in something creative. After several years of experience at art and cultural institutions and after pursuing museum studies, I realized that, without actually making artwork, I could enhance visitors’ experiences in a creative manner.
You curated an exhibition entitled In/visible: Things to be Discussed this May. Why Invisible?
In/visible: Things to be Discussed was a co-curated show. Two of my friends from New York University and I wanted to create a show that talked about our contemporary society in a subtle way. So we selected the artwork that captured aspects of our ordinary lives that may have seemed mundane but spotlighted the hidden ideologies behind the scenes of our everyday lives. To reflect this, we tried to imply that the title had several meanings. “Invisible” means something that cannot be seen because it is transparent, hidden, or small. But if you separate “in” and “visible,” it becomes a multivocal term that implies something that you can see if you look inside very carefully or thoroughly.
How did you prepare the exhibition?
My friends and I had agreed to put a show together. So, we decided to find some institutions that would accept applications. We decided everything together.
There is no one way of curating an exhibition, but we discussed the theme of the exhibition first because we had to select something that we all wanted to talk about.
After agreeing on the theme, we searched for the artists. We went to open studios together and searched for more artists through the internet. Each of us found three artists and then we eventually narrowed down the list to six artists. To tell the truth, this was the easiest part of the process.
After finding the artists, we did studio visits, gathered all the relevant information about the artists, wrote an exhibition proposal, made a list of the possible artwork, and arranged dates for packing and shipping. Since some of the artists were based in Korea, we even had to arrange for international shipping. We had to search for the right insurance, assist with the packing of the artwork, and find a date for the shipping that worked for everyone. Installing the artwork also required some work. We had twenty-one works of art in total, including two large installation works, and one of them required a very precise installation method. It was much more work than we expected, but, as much as it cost, we learned a lot.
Since it was our first time working together, it was sometimes very hard to come to an agreement, but we eventually figured it out. I personally think it was an invaluable experience. Although I had participated in organization exhibitions at different institutions, carrying out a project of my own was very different from what I had experienced. There were more things to consider and much more work to do. And I don’t think I could have done it without my colleagues.
What is the role of a curator?
I have pointed to my own creativeness in exhibitions, but I think it is the artwork that is most important. I think an exhibition that sheds light on each work of art is a good exhibition. Thus, I think the curator should be able to oversee the artwork, the space where the works of art will be displayed, and, of course, the whole process of organizing the exhibition. The curator should be able to bring many things together. Therefore, he or she should be a communicator who can put different artists, ideas, and thoughts together in one place. I also think that a curator should be an educator. An exhibition should have something that audience members can take with them, and it should enhance the audience experience.
So-Ok Park (b. 1987, South Korea) is an independent curator based in New York. Before entering into the art field, Park has worked in the education sector at various institutions in Korea. Her experience has expanded her interest to museums where education is open to the public in a multi-dimensional way. In 2016, Park has received her Master’s in Museum Studies at New York University, writing her thesis about elitism and populism in art museum exhibitions. Her past and current experiences both in Korea and New York includes positions at the Independence Hall of Korea, Korea; Daejeon Museum of Art, Korea; Geumgang Center for Buddhist Studies, Korea; Korean Cultural Center New York, New York; and AHL Foundation, New York. Park has participated in organizing various exhibitions; 16 ‘Call for Artists’ and special exhibitions at Gallery Korea of the Korean Cultural New York, and ‘Art in the Workplace’ exhibitions at the AHL Foundation. She has also co-curated Source of Life (IGONG Gallery, Korea), In/visible: Things to be Discussed (Gallery Korea) and Out of Flatland: A Tale of Many Dimensions (TBA). She is currently interested in working with emerging artists and understanding how contemporary art exhibitions can enhance audience experience.