Internship Experience at OCMA & NMCA


This past summer I had fabulous, hands-on internships at both the National Museum of Contemporary Art (NMCA) in Seoul, Korea and the Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA), California. For one month each I was able to participate in two very culturally different institutions, bringing me immeasurable practical museum experiences.
The mission of the National Museum of Contemporary Art is to contribute to the spreading of culture through its recognition, organization of exhibitions and conservation of contemporary Korean and international art.
The Museum building was constructed to harmonize the natural and artificial beauty of its surrounding landscape with traditional and contemporary space with international trends of architecture. Patterned after the traditional Korean fortress and beacon station, the design consists of two parts; one part is a fortress-like sculpture hall and semi-oval hall for paintings, and the beacon station-like Ramp-Core connecting the two halls. The main construction material for the exterior of the building was primarily domestic.
The management structure of the National Museum of Contemporary Art is divided into the Executive Bureau and the Curatorial Office, both reporting to the Director. The Executive Bureau deals with management of the Museum, such as exhibitions, public relations and education. The Curatorial Office is the center for data collection and other research, and artwork management. The library, data library and conservation projects all operate within these two departments.
I worked at the exhibition division of NMCA with a chief curator, Seungwan Kang and her assistant curator, Hanseung Ryu from May 26- June 20. Fortunately they were just beginning to prepare an exhibition, which would be the biggest one of the year. The solo exhibition was about Wolfgang Laib who is an internationally well known German artist, born in Metzingen, Germany in 1950. Introducing his exhibition briefly, it featured Laib’s oeuvre in various art forms such as sculpture, installation, photography and drawing produced from the 1970s to recent years: it includes his works of pollen, milkstones, rice houses and ziggurats. His works combined the modern artistic languages of Minimalism with Eastern philosophies, suggesting the possibility of a cultural consensus between the East and the West.

I was involved with the exhibition’s initial preparation, making check lists and proofreading them multiple times to ensure that typos were not made in the process of translating from German to Korean. The translation was particularly difficult because we also had to communicate in English to make sure of the meanings, but the artist couldn’t speak English very well. Especially, when we were handling the bibliography, there were many local German names, but sometimes the pronouns were hard to be transferred in the exact same pronunciation in Korean. Due to his very sensitive materials, I had to make these three special signs and put them in the exhibition area; “Please keep away from this work, if you are allergic to pollen”, “Please caution your children against touching artworks” and “The number of visitors is limited at the maximum of 30 visitors for the protection of the artworks.”
While working on proofreading catalogue texts and the artist’s biography and bibliography, I was also required to work on graphic design of the exhibition brochures, invitation cards and posters that would be distributed not only to the public but also to invited guests of honor in advance due to consideration of abroad mailings. I was fond of doing this work, as my undergraduate major was visual communication design and I have strong confidence in my design work. I chose a yellow for the main color because his primary artworks were made of dandelion pollen and I tried to design it as simply as possible without any excrescence to go with the artist’s terse concept of works. The publications came out well, with the exact vivid yellow color I chose, so my supervisor was very satisfied with the outcome. I also included the fax reply sheet in the invitation card for R.S.V.P. and sent to the selected audience, which included prominent people throughout the world.
There was one aspect of the exhibition process at the museum I noticed that was different from what we had learned in the Praticum class from Bradly Hudson, and it seemed to make things more difficult. When they mapped out the floor plan, they only composed it on two-dimensional paper, not the three-dimensional way of putting artifacts on scaled model. It was difficult to get the entire sense of a composition to curators and exhibition designers. I made a suggestion to them about building a three-dimensional model and they planned to process it. We needed efficient cooperation and high professional skills and dedication among the staff to realize exhibitions.

Before I visited Korea, I stopped by my aunt’s house, which is in Irvine, California and enjoyed spending time with her. We went to the Orange County Museum of Art one day which is near from her house. It was located in New Port Beach, which is recognized as the wealthiest town in the county, which I could appreciate when I saw the sophisticated, modern architecture of buildings around the town.
The museum was set back a bit from the road, covered in a little more foliage than people usually see around a building. The peaceful scenery and the museum’s exhibition aroused a desire to work there so I knocked at the door of their office. We made an interview appointment and I went there again another day with my portfolio. Luckily, they accepted me so I had a chance to work there as an intern from July until August. After doing my internship in Korea, I came back to California again last July.
The mission of the Orange County Museum of Art is to champion and interpret the art and culture of our time for a diverse and changing community according to their statement of purpose. The museum is guided by the conviction that exhibitions and programs should link historical and contemporary art, bridge local and global cultures, and inspire the sense of inquiry, creativity, and imagination within all people. Their significant collection chronicles California’s unique art history and provides a dynamic context in which to view the museum’s changing exhibitions.
I was positioned in the Marketing and Public Relations Department which deals with assisting publicity and advertising materials for exhibitions, education programs, and other museum events, archiving media coverage, and producing the quarterly museum calendar. I was able to meet and work with the very affable, intelligent director, Brian Langston, a graduate of Princeton University. I worked the department for three days per week for four weeks.
I assisted Brian Langston in evaluating proposals for a new logo and corporate image from an array of graphic designers because the museum was just about beginning to redesign their corporate identity (CI). The suggestions and comments I made in proposal meetings became integral to his analysis of the graphic options. The proposals included an ‘orange’ fruit (because of Orange County) and of acronyms of the O.C.M.A. I liked an acronym of design but I suggested it had to be very simple but legible, recognizable and organized.
They had an exhibition, Girls’ Night Out which presented groundbreaking photography and video by a new generation of women artists from around the world who explore a more fluid and poetic approach to female identity. The results are evocative images of female strength, beauty, and individuality. The international roster of artists included Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Elina Brotherus, Dorit Cypis, Rineke Dijkstra, Katy Grannan, Sarah Jones, Kelly Nipper, Daniela Rossell, Shirana Shahbazi, and Salla Tykk. Brian asked me to proofread an article written by a curator on this exhibition to be released to the press in order for me to get a sense of editing at this level. Brian taught me that a specialized article, such as this from a curator needs to be reorganized to be understandable to normal readers who read general audience newspapers or magazines. It should not go far beyond the comprehension of a regular audience, but sometimes curators tend to write in a too esoteric or aesthetic way due to their professional knowledge. Therefore, the public relation department has to revise it.
I also accomplished translation of museum information from English into Korean in the brochures, as it is an amenity for the museum’s many Korean-speaking visitors. The translations also opened channels of communication with the large Korean media that serves Orange County because there is a large Korean-speaking population in Orange County. Therefore when they visit this museum, it will help them to know better about this museum and the museum will acquire a reputation for hospitality and make them come often to the museum. In Korea I was an asset to the museum for being able to speak English, in America I was an asset for being able to speak Korean. Twenty years ago this might not have mattered, but as more people reside in both countries it is essential to be bilingual.
The museum-wide staff met once a week on Monday morning. Brian allowed me to participate there to learn what they do. The secretary started with a ‘Call to order’ and the ‘Calendar of events.’ Then every department representative spoke about their schedule for the week from the curatorial department to education, development, finance, public relations, museum stores/cafe and operation departments. It was important for me to witness what each department does and talks about and it was very helpful to see that when different departments communicate there is no confusion.
The museum also rents out their building to individuals and organizations for private entertaining as they can provide a stunning contemporary setting for banquets, receptions, luncheons, business meetings, weddings and dinners during weekends. Brian said it was a major addition to the budget of the museum. And also it could create familiarity in local society with the public.
I gained tremendous professional insights regarding museums as institutions, on museum careers, and on positions within the museum field that I aspire to occupy through this summer internship, which I cannot ever experience as an apprentice again. Both the exhibition division and the public relation/marketing department brought me various hands-on experiences to get a sense of museums as a whole and gave me confidence in my future career as a museum studies professional. I cordially thank Teddy Aiken who gave me motivation to seek summer internship and to the two museum supervisors who offered me the delightful privilege of learning about real museum operation.