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Kansong Art Museum sells national treasure to Heritage DAO

Cryptocurrency-based new owner permanently entrusts artifact to museum for physical exhibitions

National Treasure No. 73, Portable Shrine of Gilt-bronze Buddha Triad (K Auction)
National Treasure No. 73, Portable Shrine of Gilt-bronze Buddha Triad (K Auction)
A national treasure that failed to find a new owner after the Kangsong Art Museum put it up for auction in January has been bought by a cryptocurrency-based decentralized autonomous organization.

Heritage DAO purchased National Treasure No.73, Portable Shrine of Gilt-Bronze Buddha Triad, and permanently entrusted the Buddhist relic to the museum for physical exhibitions, the museum announced Wednesday.

“We were surprised by the offer to buy the national treasure from the cryptocurrency-based organization based in Singapore. The offer was made about a month after the auction failed,” an official from Kansong Art Museum told The Korea Herald.

Under the cultural heritage law, state-designated cultural heritage items are not allowed to be taken out of the country, except for some exceptional cases, including overseas touring exhibitions.

Heritage DAO donated 51 percent of the ownership of the treasure to the museum. The remainder belongs to the organization, according to the museum. Information on the ownership of the national treasure was recently changed, an official from the country’s Cultural Heritage Administration confirmed.

The country’s first private museum said it has been suffering chronic financial difficulties, and put two national treasures on the block via K Auction on Jan. 27.

The two Buddhist relics -- National Treasure No. 73, Portable Shrine of Gilt-Bronze Buddha Triad, and National Treasure No. 72, Gilt-bronze Standing Buddha Triad With Inscription of Gyemi Year -- were left unsold. The bidding started at 2.7 billion won ($2.18 million) and 3.1 billion won, respectively but there were no bidders for the items.

“We mediated the sale of the national treasure, receiving consent from the truster (the museum). However, we did not directly communicate with Heritage DAO because we don’t make business transactions unless they are an individual or a corporate body. DAO belongs to neither case,” an official from K Auction told The Korea Herald. “DAO” is an increasingly popular term in the world of cryptocurrency, referring to an organization created by like-minded people around the world who pool funds to accomplish a task.

The auction house declined to comment whether it is seeking ways to sell the other national treasure -- National Treasure No. 72, Gilt-bronze Standing Buddha Triad with Inscription of Gyemi Year -- that failed to find a new owner in January.

Heritage DAO introduces itself on its website as having just begun the work of collecting and preserving the world’s photography in an “openly accessible way” thanks to initial seed sponsors. The organization‘s collection includes historic items such as glass plates from the Meiji period of Japan and the Middle East in the 1800s.

In an interview with Forbes released on Jan. 28, Leon Kim of Heritage DAO was quoted as saying, “We would love to purchase the National Treasure Number 73 with whatever we have raised so far in a private deal to be struck with Kansong Art museum facilitated by the auction house.”

Heritage DAO would offer fractional ownership of up to 49 percent of the antiquities “and IP-based derivatives of NFTs (nonfungible tokens),” which can include digital items for gaming, virtual estates or in-game quests around the national treasures, according to the interview.

The Cultural Heritage Administration, a government organization in charge of Korean cultural heritage and artifacts, declined to comment on the matter, saying the the administration is yet to issue an official position regarding the division of ownership of the national treasure between the Kangson Art Museum and the cryptocurrency-based Heritage DAO.

By Park Yuna (yunapark@heraldcorp.com)
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