As Damien Hirst's first solo exhibition for eight years opens this week in London, the artist's major new benefactor, poised to replace Charles Saatchi as Britart's bankroller-in-chief, can be revealed as a mysterious South Korean millionaire-cum-artist.
Kim Chang-il, a collector, entrepreneur and self-proclaimed aesthete, is the mastermind of an assault on London's claim to be the natural home of great British modern art.
Mr Kim, The Independent on Sunday can reveal, has bought Charity, the massive centrepiece of the new Hirst show, opening this Wednesday. He intends Charity - a 22ft-high, six-ton bronze based on the 1960s Spastics Society collection box girl - to be the crowning glory of his extensive collection of modern art, much of it British.
Mr Kim's investment means that the epicentre of the highly lucrative Britart revolution could well shift 5,500 miles from the heart of London to Cheonan, the anonymous shopping-and-sleeping suburb of Seoul, South Korea, where he keeps his art. Here, from next month, you will find one of the world's greatest private collections of Britart from the past 10 years, housed in a new gallery space specially created for dozens of works - including pieces by two enfants terribles, Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. Farewell Saatchi's Cool Britannia, hello Kim's Cool Korea.
On the face of it, Mr Kim is an unlikely successor to Charles Saatchi. Aged 53, Mr Kim made his fortune in retail and transport, and owns a chain of 14 restaurants, as well as a department store and entertainment complex.
The store, called Arario, has an art gallery housing hundreds of modern artworks culled from around the world, but for the past 15 years Mr Kim has been focusing on buying work created in Britain. As well as pieces by Hirst, he owns five works by Emin, and others by Jake and Dinos Chapman, Mona Hatoum, Marc Quinn, Gilbert & George and Antony Gormley.
Two years ago Mr Kim paid pounds 1.3m for Hirst's Hymn, a 20ft- high sculpture in the style of a medical student's model of the human body, and installed it in the entrance to his department store. Around the same time, another version of Hymn was bought by Charles Saatchi for about pounds 1m.
Though Mr Kim has long been known to art dealers, his sudden arrival as a key player on the international gallery circuit comes as the rift between Hirst and Mr Saatchi appears to be widening. …