The Korean art world is reeling from the news that of one of its up and coming curatorial stars has been exposed as having false credentials.

From the Independent:

Imagine an attractive and talented young woman who said she had an art history doctorate from Oxford. Vivacious and persuasive, she becomes the director of the Tate Gallery. Then, just after being hired to curate the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, she is exposed as a fake who failed to get a single A-level.

This scenario, reminiscent of a Patrica Highsmith novel with its hint of The Talented Mr Ripley, is precisely the scandal now rocking the Korean art world after one of its rising stars, Shin Jeong-ah, was unveiled as a fraud.

Until this week, Shin, 35, was at the top of her profession. Claiming to have a doctorate from Yale and a master’s degree from Kansas University, she was the youngest professor at Seoul’s prestigious Dongguk University and the head curator of the Sungkok Art Museum, home to some of Korea’s most prestigious exhibitions and the recipient of millions of pounds in corporate sponsorship from the country’s biggest conglomerates.

Fabricating details on one’s curriculum vitae seems to be nothing new, as a quick browse of the web led me to another recent article detailing dozens of such scandals in the business world. One particularly audacious and amusing story:

Jeffrey Papows, the former president of IBM’s Lotus unit, resigned in 2000 after The Wall Street Journal found that he had embellished details of his military and academic achievements in his CV and in speeches and statements. He also claimed to be an orphan although his parents were still alive. According to the paper, he claimed to have a PhD from Pepperdine University but had in fact only completed a correspondence course at an unaccredited college. In addition, military records showed he had never been a Marine Corp aviator and captain, as he claimed, but a military air-traffic controller who rose no higher than lieutenant.

Mr Papows, who was also the subject of a sexual harassment complaint, later admitted: “I, in some senses, am guilty of exaggerating and embellishing for a purpose from a business standpoint.”

Back to Ms Shin, our curator in question who never attended Yale and didn’t complete her degree at Kansas University. What makes this story particularly interesting are not the fabrications, which, as evinced in the Times Online article about lying businessmen, seem to crop up quite a bit. The point of interest is that most seems to agree that Ms Shin was a good curator. Despite her complete lack of training, she seems to have performed well enough to smoke by for a long time. “She was very talented at planning exhibitions,” a leading Korean art critic told the Kyunghyang Daily News. “She was not much of an art historian or a theoretician but she put on some excellent shows which were very popular. That’s why the museums loved her.” There are so many classic tensions in this story that the mind boggles – populist vs. academic, raw talent vs. hard-won credentials, appearances vs. reality. One tends to feel pity for everyone involved in the debacle: the museum and biennale officials who were duped, and Ms Shin herself, who – though talented – because of her misrepresentations will never eat lunch in Seoul again.

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