Gwangju Biennale Foundation Faces Audit in Wake of President’s Ouster
June 11, 2021
Following the forced departure, announced May 27, of Gwangju Biennale Foundation president Sunjung Kim, the foundation is facing questions from both city and state. The Gwangju Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism and the South Korean Ministry of Employment and Labor on June 7 announced that they would jointly audit the organization, ArtAsiaPacificreports. The investigation is aimed at discovering whether allegations by the Biennale’s labor union that Kim was verbally abusive toward employees and engaged in unfair firing practices of management-level staff are true.
Kim on June 10 issued a statement in which she described the allegations as “unfounded claims and factual distortions.” Characterizing her four-year tenure at the foundation as marked by “long overdue systematic changes”—which the union cast as “privatization”—Kim contended that she had “tried [her] best to oversee the administrative process and organizational structure of the foundation with fairness and due responsibility” and that she had been quick to “reform outdated practices where necessary.” She acknowledged that the foundation, which she will continue to lead until the end of June, when her contract expires, is cooperating with the audit and exhorted the Biennale’s advocates not to let the proceedings interfere with plans for the event’s fourteenth iteration, scheduled for September 2022.
The Biennale’s union, for its part, has already filed two complaints with Gwangju’s Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission and the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, one citing mistreatment of staff and another alleging retaliation against those who protested the mistreatment. Among those who said that Kim took punitive action after they complained about her behavior are the union’s former chair, who was also head of the exhibition team, who quit May 1, and a second union member who departed May 5.
No timeline has been given regarding the joint audit. The foundation, meanwhile, is conducting a search for a new president, which it has promised to carry out in a transparent and objective fashion—and presumably a timely one, given the few weeks of Kim’s tenure remaining.