Jul 07 2021

Samsung Chairman’s Collection Destined for New Seoul Museum

by Judy Chiu

*Last updated on July 8, 2021.

A new museum will be constructed in Seoul to house the late Lee Kun-hee’s collection. Among the donated artworks are SALVADOR DALI’s Family of marsupial centaurs, 1940, oil on canvas, 35 × 30.5 cm. Courtesy the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea.

At a briefing on July 7, South Korean Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Hwang Hee unveiled plans for a new museum to house the late Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee’s sizable art collection, which his heirs had donated to state institutions to offset a hefty inheritance tax in April.

Hwang stated that a construction budget exceeding KRW 100 billion (USD 87.4 million) has been set aside for the museum, which is slated to open in 2028. The 23,181 donated artworks and cultural objects are expected to remain in Seoul, with two central locations under consideration. The Songhyeon-dong area by the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA) and the grounds of the National Museum of Korea in Yongsan-gu are the current site candidates, as both institutions hold large portions of the collection, with 1,488 pieces donated to the former, and 21,693 to the latter. The Minister also noted the exceptional infrastructure and expertise of both institutions, which renders them suitable for the level of research, collection management, and exhibition planning required for the project. The final site decision will be announced after evaluations with experts and relevant authorities. The Ministry has launched a National Donation Committee for the Lee Kun-hee Collection, consisting of a team of dedicated experts, to facilitate the process. 

In addition, Hwang announced plans for a traveling exhibition of Lee’s art collection. The show is set to tour various public art museums around South Korea starting in the second half of 2022. Collaborations on overseas presentations, including with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, are also underway.

A database of the donated works is expected to be completed by 2023.

Due to overwhelming public interest, MMCA Seoul will open an exhibition of around 70 works from Lee’s collection on July 21 instead of August, as originally planned. A concurrent show of donated wares at the National Museum of Korea is slated to open on the same day.

A portion of the collection was dispersed to regional museums beyond the capital, with some pieces returned to the respective artists’ hometowns. Displays of the donated works at the Gwangju Museum of Art and the Daegu Art Museum have already attracted widespread attention. Tickets for the Daegu show sold out on the first day, and the museum is admitting 15,000 visitors daily, according to The Korea Herald.

The regional governments that also put in bids to host the new museum expressed disappointment following the Ministry’s decision on the Seoul location. The City of Busan issued a press statement criticizing the Ministry for “ignoring the region” at the expense of “cultural decentralization and balanced national development,” sentiments echoed by representatives from Daegu and Jinju, as reported by Chosun Ilbo

Judy Chiu is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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