Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Why Can't Korea Successfully Promote Itself?

The Korea Herald had a surprisingly interesting and insightful article today called "Korea failing to promote its art." The article interviewed Robert Turley who founded the Korean Art and Antiques gallery in New York.  While Koreans probably lapped up his praise of the originality and stunning nature of Korean art, he had a very targeted criticism of how Korea has failed to successfully promote itself on the art scene (and every other scene it seems lately, aside from ice skating).
The recent Korean Art Show in New York in the first week of March was an example, he said. It was organized by the Galleries Association of Korea and Korea International Art Fair and supported by Korea's Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Sports.
"It was a great opportunity to see much Korean art under one roof, but nobody knew about it. (...) "The whole thing was like a big secret with hardly any promotion. I only found out about it a few days before the show. They had a one-page website, not much press exposure and a video on YouTube that had only 48 views," he said.
It's a perfect example of how Korea doesn't seem to grasp Western marketing and advertising practices.  Recall how many millions have been spent by the government coming up with national branding slogans like Korea Sparkling, HiSeoul, and Dynamic Korea, Here was someone who owns a prominent gallery in New York not to mention his position as president of the Korean Art Society who didn't get so much as a mailing about this gigantic show.

This is my favorite quote from the interview:
"Korean Cultural Service, whose mission is to promote Korean culture to non-Koreans, answers the phone in Korean. It sounds like a small funny thing, but it is a big sign of their attitude," he said.
Welcome to Korea buddy. It is a big sign of their attitude, one of cultural supremacy and an seeming inability to educate themselves on how to even properly promote themselves or on how to adapt to other cultural norms to make their own more accessible.

Spaz update: I forgot to restock my purse stash of tea and must go through my day practically caffeine free (I did have a giant mug at breakfast). I foresee much misery. 


Kyle Crum said...

I could go on all day about cultural supremacy here. I definitely won't miss someone telling me how good something is because it is Korean.

bosmosis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bosmosis said...

" he had a very targeted criticism of how Korea has failed to successfully promote itself on the art scene..."

Seemed to me to be about how they failed to promote one show. And how did 1500 people show up - "packed" I believe it said - of nobody knew about it. That's horse shit; TURLEY didn't know about it and he seemed to feel more than a bit slighted.

He did sound like he was was bitter: "how could they not call me - me! - and ask for my advice on how to promote their culture?" "I would think they would call me..." Why the fuck should they call him, and why is their failure to do so somehow a sign of terrible marketing judgement? Not saying they did the best they could markting it - they probably didn't - but the source of this criticism sounds like he's grinding an axe.

Oh my God, the Korean Culture Society answered they phone IN KOREAN??!?! TO me that says more about the people who call them most often (um, Koreans who are trying to promote cultural events perhaps) than any "attitude". Nor does he mention whether or not they switched to English after that utterly incomprehensible "yoboseyo". What a moaning tit this guy is.

And the lead of the article sums up why the Herald is still rightly regarded as a piece of shit. In essence: "everyone is saying one thing, but hey, let's give column space to one guy who is saying the opposite, and not supporting his opinion very well at that" (eg. What do samurai have to do with "art culture"? Why is a "packed" opening and slower finish considered a failure? - that sounded to me like every other gallery show I've ever attended. Why does the reporter allow him to claim marketing was the cause of the "failure" without asking him what "not much" press exposure means exactly, or even how the fuck Turley himself heard about the show? His biggest failing as a "journalist" - and like the The Herald I use that word very loosely - was in not even bothering to make one simple phone call to the Korean Cultural Service to ask them what they did to market the show. Where's the other side of the story? That's an epic fail in journalism 101.

Sorry, but "reporting" like that is not what I consider "insightful". Maybe it just jibes with your own opinion about the marketing of the Korean art scene, but to me that was an utterly unenlightening pile of shit.

Alex said...

1500 people in New York actually isn't that many, particularly at a large show where a good portion of the people counted represent people with vested interests in the galleries, artists or friends of one of those groups.

It's true, many of the criticisms seemed to stem from a personal slight. However, it doesn't negate the facts that the promotion was sub par for New York. The New York art scene is one of the most prestigious in America. To have a successful event (that is dictated by art sold, not just people attended) you have to have massive PR to get in buyers past the first day and not just people there to be seen or nab the free wine on the opening night.

The Korea Herald IS a low quality newspaper. However, it did make interesting points and the reason I wrote about this article was I was surprised to see a reflection on how Korea could better promote itself.

I had a similar experience to Turley in that I was amazed by the rich art history Korea has. I studied art history in Paris and while Japanese and Chinese art were given their sections in history, Korean art was not even mentioned as a footnote. It doesn't mean that Korean art is less important, it simply means it's been given less exposure. What Turley was pointing out about the Samurai example was that a close neighbor of Japan has successfully marketed itself, intentionally and unintentionally to the world.

When I first decided to move to Korea, most people in my life were baffled. I'm talking people with graduate degrees, mechanics, baristas and they all pretty much said 'what's in Korea?' I think that Turley was expressing more his frustration that Korea hasn't been able to reach out successfully to the world to show why it's so fabulous despite desperately wanting to.

bosmosis said...

"However, it doesn't negate the facts that the promotion was sub par for New York."

But again, how do you know the "promotion was sub par"? You don't even know what they did to promote the show because all you have is the opinion of one guy who had no part in promoting it. The reporter who wrote that article failed in his most basic duty, which is to report the other side of the story. Without having called the Korea Cultural Service - one simple phone call - to ask them how exactly they promoted the show, you as a reader have no way of determining if the low turnout was due to poor marketing or something else (economic recession? weather? competition with other events?) That's horrendous journalism, and a sensitive reader has no option but to withhold judgement based on such sloppy reporting.

"Turley was pointing out about the Samurai example was that a close neighbor of Japan has successfully marketed itself,"

That's certainly how it came out sounding, but remember: he was trying to make a point about a failure to market their "art culture" specifically, not the country itself more generally. It's a minor point, but I mention it only to point out that he's comparing apples and oranges and not making his case very well. Knowledge of what a samurai is and other popular historical/cultural objects is does not equate with a more general knowledge of Japanese "art culture", which again is what he was talking about. The other problem with that example is that it doesn't begin to get into the question of how it came to be that samurai became well known - was it a triumph of superior Japanese self-promotion, or some other combination of factors (fiction, movies, etc.)? We don't know, and those questions apparently didn't even occur to our cub reporter either.

He clearly loves Korean art, but let's not forget he clearly has a personal stake in popularizing Korean art too (He sells it!) That's a necessary grain of salt we need to take with rants like this. To me he sounded slighted and frustrated, two red flags that should tell us he may not be the most reliable source of accurate information.