Min Jung Kim, the New Britain Museum of American Art’s director since 2015, was born in Seoul, South Korea, and is dedicated to expanding the definition of what constitutes “American art.” An art-world veteran, she previously worked at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and was managing director of exhibitions and programming at the Global Cultural Asset Management Group in New York. This year she is spearheading the 2020/20+ Women @ NBMAA project, a year-long series of seven exhibitions devoted exclusively to women artists that began in January.
What attracted you to the director position in New Britain?
The collection was one of the major drivers and motivational factors for me in wanting this opportunity to lead such a fine institution with a fine collection. But also this museum in particular — given its history and the context of being one of, if not the oldest museum of American art in the country — simultaneously presented this opportunity to really begin to think about what American art means, and in that process potentially be both expanding and redefining the very definition of American art so that it does represent greater diversity and inclusivity.
For the best Connecticut Magazine content, plus the week's most compelling news and entertainment picks, delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our weekly newsletter.
What is the traditional definition of American art and how is that definition evolving?
There is no concrete definition and I think that’s precisely the point. Our collection tells a particular story, but increasingly today we’re also recognizing that there are actually multiple stories and multiple perspectives because this country as a whole, both traditionally and historically as well as the makeup of it today, is one of a multiplicity of cultures and traditions and perspectives. So it doesn’t neatly fall into one package or story. But therein lies the exciting possibilities. We can tell endless culture narratives through the lens of American art.
How did the 2020/20+ Women @ NBMAA project come about?
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment securing equal voting rights for women. That is really a milestone of a year; one that should be a celebration of women in noting all that has been accomplished, but at the same time seeing that there is still a little more work to be done. The underrepresentation of women still persists throughout the 21st century. … If you look at a lot of statistical data, unfortunately women artists are significantly underrepresented in many if not most museums’ permanent collections, and they are given significantly less opportunities to have solo exhibitions. So thinking about this and what we can do as an institution, and what we can do as a museum, we have committed the entirety of this year exclusively to the presentation of women artists for our special exhibitions.
How do you respond to the question about whether art should be purely aesthetic or political?
Throughout time, artists have been reflecting on and capturing the world as they see it. Sometimes it addresses political, sometimes cultural, sometimes intellectual conversations and debates that are taking place throughout their times. So I think there is nothing particularly new about the fact that artists are commenting on different societal issues. This has long been a tradition. The only difference is that when we see something from 200 or 300 years ago, being so far removed, it may resonate differently and therefore may not seem particularly political. So there is that issue of time. But at the same time, there are many instances where you will see the work by artists from centuries ago, and the very same issues that were highlighted then still resonate today.
What do you say to people who say, “Well, an art museum isn’t for me”?
I think one of our greatest assets is our people. And our people and our programs and our collection and everything about this museum has made us known as one of the most welcoming and engaging museums in the area. And that starts at the front desk. The minute you walk in, I’ve heard from many people that they immediately feel welcome. We operate and we want people to feel like this museum is an extension of their homes. We want to make them feel welcome and that there are people here who are happy to see them again. We want children, we want families, we want people throughout their lifetimes to feel that they’re always welcome here.