The Korea Herald


Pharmacy CEO opens art museum

By Lee Woo-young

Published : Aug. 23, 2012 - 20:12

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Union Pharmacy CEO Ahn Byung-gwang poses in front of a painting at Seoul Museum in Buam-dong, Seoul.(Seoul Museum) Union Pharmacy CEO Ahn Byung-gwang poses in front of a painting at Seoul Museum in Buam-dong, Seoul.(Seoul Museum)
When Union Pharmacy CEO Ahn Byung-gwang bought a print copy of the famous modern Korean painter Lee Jung-seob’s “Bull” painting in 1983, Ahn didn’t know who the artist was or whether it was just a print copy or an original painting.

Now 29 years have passed, and he has became a collector of more than 100 paintings, including the authentic “Bull” painting, and is about to open a museum to share his collection with a wider audience.

“I took cover from rain under the roof of a photo frame shop and accidentally encountered the ‘Bull’ painting picture. I thought how in the world a bull could be drawn in bones and then looked again and found the bull looking angrily at me. Somehow I got attracted to it and decided to buy it at 7,000 won ($6),” said Ahn at a news conference for the opening of Seoul Museum on Wednesday.

“The frame shop owner said it’s wasn’t the original, but a print copy of it. That’s how I started as a collector who couldn’t even distinguish between a painting and a print copy.”

Ahn gave the print copy to his wife as a gift and promised her he would buy the original painting for her one day.

He purchased the original painting in 2010 at an auction at a record price of 3.5 billion won ($3,146,500), sold as the second most expensive painting by Lee.

“Now it’s not mine, but an asset to the museum,” said Ahn.

Ahn said he didn’t know who the painter Lee was until he heard about his life through the poet Gu Sang, who was his neighbor in 1985.

That was when he started to focus on artists’ life and personality when deciding which painting to buy.

“Buying a painting for me means buying an artist’s personality and life,” said Ahn.

“I am not an art expert. I just looked for what I liked. And I tried to see how artists’ lives were and reflect on my life through artwork.”

How he found the museum site in Buam-dong, northern Seoul, was pure fate, just like how he got to know the “Bull” painting, Ahn said.

He saw on the news that the vacation house of the father of the last king of Joseon, registered as a cultural heritage by the city government, was on the block and suddenly wanted to buy it. After losing the bid once, he acquired the site a year later “by destiny” as he puts it.

The Seoul Museum sits under the cultural heritage site and offers perfect harmony of the cultural heritage site with art.

Ahn now hopes his collection can inspire and comfort people, especially doctors and pharmacists he works with.

“I see many doctors, pharmacists and patients looking not happy. Their circumstances form their faces. And I hope my museum becomes a resting place and gives them inspiration in life,” said Ahn.

Ahn’s museum does not bear his name because he wishes to make the museum the representative art museum in Seoul.

“People question why I put the most common name already being used by Seoul Museum of Art and Seoul Art Center. But I think anyone can share the name ‘Seoul’ and I hope Seoul Museum becomes the representative art museum of the city.”

By Lee Woo-young  (