Town Talk Features

Get to Know: Min Jung Kim

Min Jung Kim’s love of art has taken her around the world. Born and raised in Seoul, she studied art history at Wheaton College in Illinois and earned a master’s degree from the Courtauld Institute of London. Now, she’s bringing her unique perspective to the StL as the new Barbara B. Taylor Director of the Saint Louis Art Museum. While she’s SLAM’s 11th director, she is the first woman to lead the museum in its 142-year history.

how i discovered art history …
Growing up, I always had an interest in art, but I didn’t have the knowledge of what that appreciation might lead to academically or professionally. When I came to the United States for college, I discovered art history as a field. It wasn’t something I had really encountered in South Korea. It was new and novel, and I fell in love with it. That led me to my chosen career path of the last 30 years. It was a happy accident that became a tremendous part of my life, and I’m thrilled that it has brought me to this point.

the benefit of a global perspective … 
I think it changes how we approach things. There are less preconceived assumptions and a greater awareness of the fact that there can always be a multiplicity of perspectives. I may come at something from one angle, but others have different points of view. In many ways, diversity enriches the conversation and experience.

what my past experience has taught me … 
I’ve worked in several museums in the last 30 years, and I think a theme that has carried throughout my career has been the importance of collaboration and partnership. For 13 years, I worked at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. I took on a number of different roles, one of which was director of content alliances. I managed collaboration with the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. These are three fantastic museums that on their own are so distinct and wide ranging, but when you bring them together, it creates the most comprehensive collection one can conceive of. From that, you have the ability to essentially tell endless cultural narratives. That was very exciting, but at the same time, you have to recognize the challenge of bringing different parties together. To create something special and unique, you have to develop relationships over time. I hope to bring that experience to SLAM and continue to build partnerships in the community.

the role of cultural institutions in a community … 
The relationship is one that is symbiotic; cultural institutions thrive when the community thrives. I think it’s important to acknowledge that organizations like museums exist for the community. Our job is to create, sustain and engage connections. I’m looking forward to building SLAM’s existing partnerships so we can continue to work with various organizations to offer exciting programs.

what i hope to achieve at slam … 
The first thing I want to do is get to know the museum, its collection, our staff and the constituents and stakeholders. I also need to learn more about my new hometown and community. I want to continue all the extraordinary things that SLAM has done and build upon the incredibly strong foundation that is already there. I think there are a variety of ways visitors can interact and experience the art we have here, whether it’s a permanent collection or a special exhibition. It really varies from person to person, but that is one of the wonderful things about art. Some pieces may offer moments of comfort and contemplation, while others may challenge you to consider different perspectives you’ve not previously encountered. I hope that everyone is able to have a variety of experiences when visiting and revisiting the museum.

being the museum’s first female director … 
It’s a profound honor and privilege to be the first woman director. I hope that I’m simply one of many more to come.

my first impression of st. louis …
I’ve been so impressed. I knew a little about the city before coming here, but it has surpassed my expectations. St. Louis has such tremendous strength and rich cultural resources. I’m astounded by all there is on offer. There is so much to celebrate here, and I hope that SLAM and I can play a role in contributing to what makes it so wonderful. We want that to be reflected in the stories we tell at the museum.

Photo courtesy of the Saint Louis Art Museum

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