Korea’s top collector unveils art trove

By Lee Woo-young

Arario Museum in Space devotes each space to an artist who is a leading figure in contemporary art

  • Published : Aug 24, 2014 - 20:04
  • Updated : Aug 24, 2014 - 20:09
The historic former Space group building will open again as a museum in September with an extensive exhibition of the contemporary art collection of Kim Chang-il, chairman of Arario Group.

The ivy-covered, black brick building, built by the first generation Korean modern architect Kim Swoo-geun in 1977, has undergone a transformation since November last year. Following the bankruptcy of the architecture company, the building was put on auction and purchased by Kim, the only Korean art collector whose name was listed in the top 200 art collectors by ART news.

The space has turned into a $147 million trove of contemporary art that houses some 100 works by 43 artists. The inaugural exhibition is just the tip of his 3,700 artworks collected over the last 35 years. 
The inaugural exhibition at the Arario Museum in Space (Yonhap)

Kim Chang-il, chairman of Arario Group, speaks at the press conference on the opening of the Arario Museum in Space on Thursday. (Arario)
“The museum shows everything about my collection ― its direction and who I am,” said Kim at the press preview of the museum on Thursday. He named the inaugural exhibition “Really?” to point to the artistic value of his collection. 

“This is the question I’ve received so many times in regards to my collection. Many people have had doubts over what I do, my collections and my insight for art. I intend to answer their questions with the exhibition,” he said.

The exhibition presents works of leading contemporary artists from the U.S., the U.K., Germany, India, China and Southeast Asia. Kim dedicated each room to one artist to offer visitors an in-depth understanding of artists and their works. The museum is not the usual white cube space with high ceilings, but a labyrinth of low-ceilinged small rooms in different sizes connected with narrow corridors and spiral stairways. The complex structure provides an intimate viewing experience.

“It was hard to create harmony among the different works. I felt like I was the conductor of an orchestra,” said Kim.

The exhibition seeks to connect with the old usage of the space. Where once was a parking lot is now a life-size Lamborghini sculpture by Gwon Osang. The dark space in between stairways is home for Marc Quinn’s head sculpture “Self” made of 4.5 liters of the artist’s blood. The sculpture is being kept at minus 25 degrees Celsius in a room equipped with emergency electricity in case of a blackout.

The space used as an entrance and a reception desk is now the stage for four avant-garde works by Nam June Paik including “TV Cello” and “Hydra-Buddha.”

The museum’s largest space is devoted to showcase major paintings and photographs in Kim’s collection, including Korean artist Kang Hyung-koo’s Andy Warhol portrait, a painting by Andy Warhol, a surrealist painting by Neo Rauch, the leading artist from the School of Leipzig, and American artist Babara Kruger’s untitled painting that features two large beakers with two steel bars inscribed with the slogans “Endless War” and “You Will Live Forever.”

American photographer Cindy Sherman’s portrait photographs are lined on one side of the wall. Kim said they are the works Sherman presented at her solo exhibition at Gagosian Gallery in New York about 10 years ago. Kim bought all the works on display at the time and added that they offered an understanding of the artist’s 1970s and 1980s work.

A space is devoted to works by Tracey Emin, a leading artist in the Young British Artists group, including “Remembering 1963,” a patchwork that expresses the artist’s personal trauma.

Having a collection of Young British Artists and artists of the School of Leipzig was one of the reason that Kim was named one of the most influential art collectors in the world by art magazine “Monopol.”

While a majority of the exhibition consists of works by foreign artists, a highlight work that Kim picks is the earlier painting “Seated Woman” by Korean artist Choi Wook-kyung. The museum trip ends with a mysterious sound-visual installation by French artist Pierre Huyghe.

The museum is expected to show more works from Kim’s collection following the first exhibition.

The museum opens until 10 p.m. and will hold a guided tours from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. from Sept. 1-5 to celebrate the opening. For more information, visit www.arariomuseum.org, or call (02) 736-5700.

By Lee Woo-young (wylee@heraldcorp.com)