| [CULTURAL ISSUE] National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea
The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea ( MMCA , Director Youn Bummo) has unveiled 1,488 works (1,226 pieces) of the art collection of the late Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee.
“Lee Kun- hee’s Collection” comprises of major artworks by Korea’s most representative modern and contemporary artists including KIM Whanki, NA Haesuck, PARK Sookeun, LEE Inseong, LEE Jungseop, and CHUN Kyungja as well as major works by world-renowned international artists such as Claude Monet, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso. Paintings, in particular Korean and Western paintings, account for a majority of the collection, which encompasses the contemporary art history as it also includes printings, drawings, crafts, and sculptures. This is the first large bulk donation topping 1,000 pieces, and with its addition to the MMCA’s existing collection amounting to 8,782 pieces, it enables the museum to now usher in a new era expanding its collection to over 10,000 pieces.
Processes Leading Up to the Donation of the Century
The donation was carried out in accordance to the MMCA’s donation process.(four in-person observation sessions – donation deliberation meeting – transportation of the works and issuance of the certificate of donation) All of the donated works have been safely transported to MMCA Gwacheon’s storage which is equipped with temperature and humidity control facilities. The donated works are set to be disclosed to the public consecutively via the museum’s webpage following a thorough examination, status check, registration, documentation, discussion on their copyrights as well as in- depth study and research. Under the official title of “Lee Kun – hee’s Collection,” the information gathered via the abovementioned procedures will be included in the basic information of the artworks and will not only be disclosed to the public via on-line but also displayed in exhibitions and publications.
Composition of “Lee Kun – hee’s Collection”
“Lee Kun- hee’s Collection” is an extensive one that consists of a total of 1,488 artworks – 1,369 works by 238 Korean modern and contemporary artists and 119 works by 8 international modern artists. It has a relatively even representation of all genres as it includes 412 pieces of paintings, 371 pieces of prints, 296 pieces of Korean paintings, 161 pieces of drawings, 136 pieces of crafts and 104 pieces of sculptures. As for the era of production, approximately 320 works have been produced before the 1950s, accounting for 22% of the total donated artworks. Nevertheless, when looking at the works based on the year of birth of the artists, roughly 860 works have been produced by artists who fall under the category of so- called “modern artists” born before the 1930s, and thus accounting for 58% of the total collection. When looking at the number of works by each artist, YOO Youngkuk has the most number of works totaling to 187 pieces, followed by Lee Jungseop, with 104 pieces, YOO Kangyul with 68 pieces, CHANG Uc-chin with 60 pieces, Lee Ungno with 56 pieces, PARK Sookeun with 33 pieces, BYEON Gwansik with 25 pieces and KWON Jinkyu with 24 pieces.
Implications of the Donation of “Lee Kun – hee’s Collection”
The most significant implication of the donation of Lee’s collection is that it has contributed to an extensive boost of modern art works collected by the MMCA in terms of both quantity and quality. Among the works collected by the museum so far, there were only some 960 artworks that have been produced before the 1950s. The latest donation that significantly complements the MMCA’s collection of Korean modern art, which are rare and difficult to find, is expected to play a significant role in contributing to the study on Korean modern art history.
There are many features worth noting among “Lee Kun – hee’s Collection.” Firstly, the collection includes an extensive number of the so- called “representative works” of Korean artists – KIM Eunho, LEE Sangbeom, BYEON Gwansik, KIM Kichang, PARK Rehyun, and etc. This has significantly elevated the quality of the MMCA’s Korean art collection. They include the blue and green style landscape painting drawn by LEE Sangbeom when he was 25 years old, Paradise (1922), Mountain and Valley (1957), a well-renowned representative work of NO Soohyeon, KIM Eunho’s 간성 (Ganseong) (1927) that displays the characteristics of ink color paintings that the artist produced during his early years of career as well as KIM Kichang’s 5-meter-long work, Horses (1955).
Second, the collection encompasses the works of major artists that represent Korean modern art including PARK Sookeun, CHANG Uc-chin, KWON Jin-kyu and YOO Youngkuk that the MMCA had difficulties in collecting due to limited budget allocated for acquisition and collection.
Third, the donation also includes rare modern artworks. They include Peonies of Hwayeongjeon Palace (1930s) that has become the criteria of the authenticity of NA ’s work being confirmed to be her authentic production, Paradise (1937), the only artwork produced in the 1930s by BAIK Nam- soon who was a female artist as well as a teacher of LEE Jungseop , as well as Boy (1929), which is one of the four oil paintings by KIM Jong-tae.
Fourth, the fact that the artworks by international modern artists have now been included in the MMCA’s list of collection for the first time is also very symbolic. It is also more meaningful because the donation includes the works by Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet, Joan Miro, and Salvador Dali.
Exhibition of “Lee Kun – hee’s Collection”
The MMCA plans to unveil the donated works starting from MMCA Seoul in August 2021, MMCA Gwacheon and Cheongju in 2022 in the forms of special exhibition, permanent exhibition and Open Storage. ▲In August, MMCA Seoul will exhibit some 40 works that represent Korean modern art through Part 1 of Lee Kun- hee’s Collection : Modern Art (working title), representative works by western artists such as Monet and Renoir through Part 2 of Lee Kun- hee’s Collection : Western Art (working title), as well as some 104 pieces of paintings, drawings and postcard drawings by Lee Jungseop through Part 3 of Lee Kun- hee’s Collection : LEE Jungseop Special . ▲In July, MMCA Deoksugung will put on display some pieces through the The Traditional and Contemporary Korean Art while an extensive number of Lee’s collection will be exhibited at Retrospective of PARK Sookeun that is slated to be held in November. Parts of Lee’s collection will also be included in the exhibition on modern Korean artists scheduled for September 2022 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
(LACMA) in the U.S., which will serve as an opportunity to showcase high quality Korean modern art to the global audience. ▲At MMCA Gwacheon, New Encounter will be unveiled in April and September of 2022, respectively, which is an exhibition held under the theme of a new encounter between Lee’s collection and the conventional collection and archive of the MMCA. ▲ MMCA Cheongju , meanwhile, plans to present an opportunity for the audiences to take an in-depth view of the representative works of Lee’s collection at the Open Storage, which is a convergence space betwe en storage and exhibition gallery. ▲In addition, the MMCA also plans to hold special touring exhibitions in partnership with regional network museums in 2022 to enable more members of the Korean public to enjoy the invaluable artistic assets of the country.
Research and Public Program of “Lee Kun – hee’s Collection”
By 2022, the MMCA plans to carry out fundamental academic research on the names of artists and artworks, material techniques and year of production with the aim of establishing a database on the artworks of Lee’s collection in parallel with the research on period of production and analysis of ingredients used. It also aims to build a database of major information on artworks with the help of the members of the bereaved family, surviving artists and figures of the art circles. Upon the completion of such basic study, the museum also plans to publish a catalogue on Lee’s collection, which will be followed by the publication of various research papers and documents with numerous academic events that will be staged gradually to analyze the donated works based on period and theme. Ultimately, the MMCA hopes to expand the horizon of the study on Korean art history by shedding light on the value of the donations in the discipline of art history.
Youn Bummo, director of the MMCA extended his gratitude to “the bereaved family of the late Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee for donating the artworks that he has collected during the course of his lifetime for the development of Korea’s cultural and art circles,” adding “with the large bulk donation of high quality artworks that will contribute to ushering in a new era of expanding the museum’s collection to 10,000 pieces both in name and in reality, the MMCA will continue to make efforts to elevate the lev el of public’s cultural enjoyment going forward.”
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