Samsung’s late president’s art collection on display in Seoul

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SEOUL, July 21 (UPI) – Masterpieces from the huge art collection of Lee Kun-hee, former Samsung chairman who was South Korea’s richest man, were on display to the public on Wednesday in Seoul for the first time. times since his heirs donated some 23,000 pieces to museums across the country.

Lee’s family announced the donation in April, settling intense speculation about what would become one of the world’s largest private collections, a treasure that includes works by prominent Korean artists as well as pieces by Pablo. Picasso, Salvador Dali and Claude Monet.

The Samsung president, who oversaw the company’s rise from a cheap electronics maker to a global powerhouse, died in October at the age of 78.

Two exhibitions were opened simultaneously at two museums in Seoul on Wednesday: the National Museum of Korea, where art and artefacts from a range of Korean history were displayed, and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, which showed pieces from the early to mid-20th century by Korean masters such as Kim Whanki, Lee Jung-seob, and Park Soo-keun.

The National Museum of Korea has received some 21,600 works from Lee’s family, including treasures such as 18th-century painting Clearing after rain on Mount Ingwang by Jeong Seon. Seventy-seven of the works are on display.

The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art received 1,488 pieces and placed 58 works in its current exhibition.

Tiffany Yun, deputy director of public relations at the museum, called the gift from Lee’s estate “gift of the century.”

“Being able to share these works with the public has enormous meaning,” she said in a press preview of the exhibition on Tuesday.

The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art exhibit features some of South Korea’s most notable pieces, including Taurus by Lee Jung-seob and Women and pots by Kim Whanki, the largest canvas ever made by the pioneering abstract artist.

“As a continuation of this exhibition, the MMCA will offer the public more opportunities to enjoy the high-quality works of art donated and will continue to broaden the horizon of art history research by studying the Lee’s collection in the future, ”museum director Youn Bummo said in a statement.

After Lee’s death, the future of his collection, estimated to be worth around $ 1.7 billion, sparked great interest. In addition to donations to Seoul’s two major museums, Lee’s heirs also donated a smaller number of works to five regional museums, according to South Korea’s culture ministry.

The family also announced in April that they would pay the largest inheritance tax in South Korean history on Lee’s estate – around $ 10.8 billion.

The gift of art, however, did not come without controversy.

South Korea’s Culture Ministry announced earlier this month that it would build a new facility to house Lee’s collection, and named two potential locations in central Seoul.

Other cities and provincial governments quickly complained about the plan, and a group of 677 art experts issued a statement criticizing the decision to keep all works in one place.

The exhibits come at a time when Lee Kun-hee’s son and Samsung’s de facto chief Lee Jae-yong is in prison, serving a 30-month sentence for bribing former President Park Geun-hye. He is also awaiting the start of another trial on a series of criminal charges linked to the controversial 2015 merger of two Samsung subsidiaries.

Business leaders have been pushing for a presidential pardon for Lee, 53, citing Samsung’s disproportionate importance to South Korea’s economy, a move that public opinion also supports, according to recent polls.

Lee Kun-hee was twice convicted of white-collar crimes, in 1996 and 2008, but avoided prison and received a presidential pardon, in a scenario familiar to South Korean business tycoons.

The National Museum exhibition will run until September 26, while the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art exhibition will run until March 13.

The two museums plan to organize another exhibition next April to mark the first anniversary of the donation. Parts of Lee’s collection are also set to appear at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in September 2022.


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