Korean globe-trotter settles in The City 

Hyonjeong Kim Han, the new curator of Korean Art at the Asian Art Museum, was born in Seoul and recently worked at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art – but she regards her move to San Francisco as a kind of homecoming.

Kim, who was appointed in March and officially assumes the position July 1, says she’s “thrilled” to be back in the Bay Area – her daughter’s birthplace, and adds, “This time, we are not a foreign graduate student family!”

Examining Kim’s biography may give an observer jet lag.

When she was 8, she went with her father, a professor of political science, from her native Korea to Paris, where she and her mother enjoyed many cultural experiences. 

“I still have memories of various kids’ programs at Centre Pompidou that just opened at that time. I think I became to be fascinated with arts and  culture from that age on.”

After returning to Korea, she then came to study in Berkeley, and married a graduate student here in 1997. 

After two years, she left to study and work at UC Santa Barbara.

As a graduate instructor in art history and Korean language, she says she learned how to make Korean culture and language accessible to non-Koreans. 

Between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, she returned to Seoul, teaching and researching for two years. She says, “When I think back, I was literally back-and-forth between the two countries.”

The respected specialist in Korean and Chinese paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries applied for the San Francisco Asian Art Museum position because, she says, “Everyone who studies East Asian art history knows how important this museum is. It’s also the first museum to have an independent department for Korean art and curator for Korean art. I am so honored that I can be part of this history.”

 The Asian is one of only four museums in the U.S. with a significant Korean collection. Others are LACMA (to which Kim made significant contributions), as well as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The Asian’s full name is the “Chong-Moon Lee Center for Asian Culture and Art,” in honor of its major benefactor, a Korean-American businessman.

Kim is Museum Director Jay Xu’s first curatorial hire. Noting that the Asian’s 800-piece Korean collection is highly regarded worldwide, Xu says the new curator “brings a wealth of academic and curatorial experience that will help to support our mission of leading a diverse global audience in discovering Asian art and culture.”

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