Going Public with Privately Collected Art

Korea Times (Seoul, Korea), July 2, 1999 | Go to article overview

Going Public with Privately Collected Art


The affinity of rich people for art museums and collections has usually been interpreted either as ``a cultural service to society,'' or as ``tax evasion,'' since the valuable property of art museums is legally exempted from inheritance tax and donation tax until the works are sold, adding to the appeal of art collecting.

But what gets too easily dismissed amidst the overriding suspicions is the possibility that there might indeed be genuine interest in art and artistic appreciation behind these valuable collections.

``The first question people (in Korea) ask is, is this authentic? Then, they ask, how much was it? I find these questions so artistically ignorant, but this is all everybody asks. Then how I came to collect art and why,'' said Lee Sun-shine, 48, the owner of ``Sunshine Lee's Collection'' at the SOHO in Pilun-dong, downtown Seoul.

Lee claims she has already had several requests for her to hold a talk on the subject of private art collecting.

As the proprietress of the newly opened SOHO art museum in her SOHO Village, an apartment building for foreigners only, Lee has brought out her extensive private collection from the basement where it was piling up and opened it up to the public in a gallery inside her homey new French restaurant ``La Table de Picasso (02-722-1999).''

Numerous Chagall lithographs including the lover, flowers and Bible series, Picasso's ``War and Peace,'' and Miro's ``Hammer Without an Owner'' and ``Star Sense'' are some of the pieces that many will recognize, in addition to several impressionist oils hanging on the walls of the restaurant.

``People have badmouthed me for building an art museum at a time some people couldn't even afford to eat. But I always remember that the MOMA in New York was built in 1929 during the Great Depression, and was heavily criticized when it opened. I think it was built on the basis that bread is precious, but that food for thought is even more precious,'' Lee said.

The former broadcaster and newspaper columnist said she felt good about opening her collection to the public. ``Usually, chaebol owners and other people who can afford to have at least one or two valuable paintings don't want to show them to the public because they don't want to show that they are wealthy. …

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