The Korea Herald


Galleries vexed by outdated ban on taking older artwork out of country

By Park Yuna

Published : Oct. 18, 2023 - 17:11

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"62-602" by Quac In-sik (Hakgojae Gallery)

Hakgojae Gallery, which had hoped to present an art piece by Korean avant-garde artist Quac In-sik created 61 years ago at Frieze London, has had to abandon its plans due to the Cultural Properties Protection Law that bans the movement of historical works abroad to sell.

The law requires any artifact that is at least 50 years old to be appraised to determine whether the item can leave the country. The Cultural Heritage Administration does allow for exceptions when an item is taken abroad for an exhibition, according to the state agency.

“Any object or painting that is considered a cultural heritage based on its scarcity, artistic, historic and academic value is not allowed to be taken out of the country for sale,” an official from the administration said, citing the law.

Created in 1962, Quac’s “62-602” is one of the artist’s early pieces and is considered to be his defining artwork. The work was part of a special exhibition that commemorated the 100th anniversary of the artist's birth at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea in 2019.

Born in 1919, Quac is Korea’s leading experimental artist, having led the country’s avant-garde art movement in the 1960s and 1970s. His glasswork “62-602,” owned by the Hakgojae Gallery, is considered to be a premier Asian avant-garde work.

Hakgojae Gallery, one of the leading and oldest galleries in the country, participated in Frieze London in October. The gallery participated in the Masters section, where prestigious galleries presented masterpieces from the 20th century, as well as other remarkable antiquities.

Quac's work was stopped from leaving the country ahead of shipping, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The law that bans works created 50 years or more ago that are considered "of historic value" from leaving the country has been a long-standing issue, vexing many gallerists and curators who wish to bring those works abroad for exhibitions or sales. The issue reemerged after a local media reported on the case with Hakgojae.

“In the case of antiquities, it is even more serious. Even a single antique plate is technically subject to screening to confirm whether or not it is fine for it to leave the country. It is no wonder that some people do not report them and learn of expedient ways to avoid the troublesome process,” said Hwang Dal-sung, president of the Galleries Association of Korea.

He said the law seems to be rooted in the country’s efforts to protect its cultural artifacts after such valuable works were taken to Japan during the colonial era, from 1910 to 1945.

“Calls to revise the law have been made during past administrations, but progress has been slow. It is now time to revise the law as the Korean cultural scene has gained international recognition,” he added.

In response to an earlier news report on Hakgojae, the Cultural Heritage Administration said Monday it is working to ease the regulation.