The Korea Herald


Ministry plans new building to house Lee Kun-hee collection

2 sites in central Seoul under consideration for the late Samsung chairman’s donation

By Im Eun-byel

Published : July 7, 2021 - 11:02

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Culture Minister Hwang Hee speaks at a press briefing held Wednesday at the government complex in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul. (Yonhap) Culture Minister Hwang Hee speaks at a press briefing held Wednesday at the government complex in Gwanghwamun, central Seoul. (Yonhap)

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism is considering two sites in central Seoul to build an exclusive establishment dedicated to late Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee’s personal collection that was donated to the government.

The grounds of the National Museum of Korea in Yongsan-gu and the Songhyeon-dong area near the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, are the two potential sites.

The Culture Ministry has been running a separate task force and an expert committee on dealing with the 23,181 artworks donated by Lee’s family in April.

“There is a need to build a new art hall to better manage the donated art collection and study the wide-ranging art collection,” Culture Minister Hwang Hee said at a media briefing Wednesday at the government complex in central Seoul.

“The aim is to share the donator’s collection and his philosophy behind collecting the artwork with the wider public,” he said.

The Yongsan-gu site is owned by the Culture Ministry, while the Songhyeon-dong plot is owned by Korean Air. The Seoul Metropolitan Government is looking into help the ministry secure the land for the new establishment, the minister said.

The establishment has been tentatively named the “Lee Kun-hee Donation Hall.” Though the exact budget for the project has yet to be drawn up, Hwang expected it would cost some 100 billion won ($87.8 million).

The Culture Ministry will decide on the final site after discussions with its expert committee and the relevant authorities, Hwang said. The decision will likely be made before the end of this year.

Though cities across the country have been very vocal about having the establishment in their regions, the committee decided on Seoul, citing the need to cooperate with experts at the National Museum of Korea and the MMCA.

“The most important principles are preservation (of the artworks) and the related studies (on the works). To preserve and display the artworks -- which are of diverse types from oil paintings to ceramics and more -- the experience and experts at the two institutions are needed,” said Kim Yeong-na, head of the expert committee.

“Also, accessibility is important, making Songhyeon-dong and Yongsan the optimal locations,” said Kim, a professor emeritus at the Department of Archaeology and Art History at Seoul National University and a former head of the National Museum of Korea.

Director General Min Byoung-chan of the National Museum of Korea said the construction of the new establishment is likely to be completed by 2027 or 2028.

The donations were originally given to the National Museum of Korea and the MMCA, with the National Museum of Korea receiving 21,693 pieces of antique art while the MMCA received 1,488 pieces of modern and contemporary art.

Hwang pointed out that Lee’s family donated the works to Korea, as the state holds ownership of all works at the two state institutions.

Artworks donated to regional museums -- including the Lee Jung Seop Art Gallery on Jeju Island, Park Soo Keun Museum in Gangwon Province, Daegu Art Museum, Gwangju Museum of Art, Jeonnam Museum of Art in Gwangyang, South Jeolla Province, and the Seoul National University -- will remain there, in accordance with the donor’s wishes, he added.
“White Ox” by Lee Jung-seop (MMCA) “White Ox” by Lee Jung-seop (MMCA)

A traveling exhibition showcasing Lee’s art collection will be held at national and public art museums around the country starting in the second half of 2022, Hwang said. The ministry said it plans to hold a traveling exhibition more than three times a year.

Hwang said there were also plans to exhibit the donated works abroad at art museums and galleries, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain and the British Museum.

“(The ministry) expects to strengthen Korea’s brand identity as a cultural powerhouse through the construction of the new establishment. We will do our best while communicating with the art scene and experts,” the minister said.

Meanwhile, exhibitions featuring some of the donated works will be held at the National Museum of Korea and the MMCA starting July 21.

In April 2022, the two institutions will hold a special joint exhibition marking the 1st anniversary of the donation. The Culture Ministry is looking into showcasing the artworks donated to regional museums and galleries and also some works at Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, at the same exhibition.

By Im Eun-byel (