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The new museum will be constructed in Seoul. Photo: Joon Kyu Park/Wikipedia Commons.
The new museum will be constructed in Seoul. Photo: Joon Kyu Park/Wikipedia Commons.

South Korea to Build New Museum to House Samsung Collection

South Korean minister of culture, sports, and tourism Hwang Hee on July 7 announced that a new museum is being established to house the art collection of late Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee. Lee’s heirs donated the multibillion-dollar collection—which comprises 23,181 artworks and cultural objects by artists including Picasso, Monet, and Giacometti, plus at least twenty antiquities officially designated as National Treasures—to several state institutions in April in order to offset a substantial inheritance tax.

The collection is expected to remain in Seoul, with two central locations currently being considered as construction sites. The first of these is the Songhyeon-dong area near the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA); the second is the grounds of the National Museum of Korea in Yongsan-gu. Both museums are in possession of substantial portions of Lee’s collection, with the former having received 1,488 pieces and the latter 21,693. 

The announcement of a new institution unifying the collection under one roof contradicted earlier claims by the businessman’s heirs that the collection would be dispersed across multiple museums. "There is a need to build a new art hall to better manage the donated art collection and study [it],” Hwang said at a press conference earlier today, as reported in the Korea Herald. “The aim is to share the donator’s collection and his philosophy behind collecting the artwork with the wider public.”

A National Donation Committee for the Lee Kun-hee Collection has been established to facilitate the selection process. Hwang also lifted the veil on plans for a traveling exhibition of works from Lee’s collection, set to take place in venues around South Korea beginning in the latter half of 2022. The show will travel internationally, with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art said to be in talks to host the exhibition. Additionally, a database of the donated works is expected to be completed by 2023.

The collection and its fate have been topics of great interest to the south Korean public. MMCA Seoul opened an exhibition of roughly 70 works from the collection on July 21, having moved the date up from August to satisfy demand. A concurrent show of donated works is to open the same day at the National Museum of Korea. Smaller shows featuring works from Lee’s collection have already opened at the Gwangju Museum of Art and the Daegu Art Museum, with the Korea Herald reporting that tickets for the latter, where the museum is admitting 15,000 visitors daily, sold out on the exhibition’s first day.

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