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Lee Kun-hee's love for art founded Leeum

Louise Bourgeois's 'Maman' is installed at the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, founded by the late Lee Kun-hee. Korea Times file
Louise Bourgeois's 'Maman' is installed at the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, founded by the late Lee Kun-hee. Korea Times file

By Kwon Mee-yoo

The late Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Kun-hee
The late Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Kun-hee
Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Kun-hee, who passed away Sunday, not only built the global tech giant, but also collected a wide range of artwork and supported artists such as Paik Nam-june.

Lee was an avid collector of fine art, especially ancient Korean art.

His love for art was inherited from his late father Lee Byung-chull, the founder of Samsung, who mainly collected antique art pieces such as celadon. Lee succeeded to Lee Byung-chull's collection and grew it into a larger one including about 20 National Treasures, making him the biggest individual collector of such rare artefacts.

Lee promoted a project to collect 100 National Treasures between the 1980s and '90s to heighten the value of his collection. According to the former vice director of the Ho-Am Art Museum who assisted Lee and his father in their collection of antiques, he was fond of "baekja," or white porcelain, and spared no expense to obtain valuable artwork.

The Samsung Foundation of Culture, which operates two art museums, also has a number of National Treasures in its collection.

Lee founded the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, in Hannam-dong, Seoul in 2004, in addition to the Ho-Am Art Museum, located in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province.

Leeum is arguably one of the top private art museums in Korea. Designed by three renowned architects Jean Nouvel, Rem Koolhaas and Mario Botta, the museum has permanent exhibitions of Korean traditional and contemporary art as well as special exhibitions, presenting works by Olafur Eliasson, Alexander Calder and Anish Kapoor.

It has also presented exhibitions of internationally acclaimed Korean artists Yang Hae-gue and Suh Do-ho, and held biennial Artspectrum projects to discover new talent.

However, being deeply rooted in the family collection hindered the museum's activities.

Lee's wife Hong Ra-hee served as director of the museums, but resigned in March 2017 after her son and Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Jae-yong was indicted and imprisoned for bribery. After Hong's resignation, the museum canceled all its special exhibitions, including a major Kim Whan-ki retrospective, which was one of the most highly anticipated exhibits that year.

Currently, both museums are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Paik Nam-june's
Paik Nam-june's "The More, The Better" consists of 1,003 televisions provided by Samsung Electronics, after Lee Kun-hee began to sponsor renowned Korean artists. Korea Times file

Lee also supported Korean artists in various ways.

He first met the late avant-garde artist Paik Nam-june, often dubbed the father of video art, in 1987 and agreed to support him by providing televisions.

As a video artist, televisions were an indispensable part of Paik's works and the artist had been using the Japanese brand Sony, but changed to Samsung Electronics after Lee offered support.

"The More, The Better," Paik's monumental 18-meter-tall video installation commemorating the 1988 Seoul Olympics, consists of 1,003 televisions provided by Samsung. Currently, the video artwork is at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gwacheon undergoing restoration.

Lee also supported major exhibitions of Korean artists abroad, including Lee U-fan, who won the Ho-Am Prize in the Arts in 2001. Samsung sponsored Lee U-fan's retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in 2011.


Louise Bourgeois's 'Maman' is installed at the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, founded by the late Lee Kun-hee. Korea Times file
Louise Bourgeois's 'Maman' is installed at the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, founded by the late Lee Kun-hee. Korea Times file

By Kwon Mee-yoo

The late Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Kun-hee
The late Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Kun-hee
Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Kun-hee, who passed away Sunday, not only built the global tech giant, but also collected a wide range of artwork and supported artists such as Paik Nam-june.

Lee was an avid collector of fine art, especially ancient Korean art.

His love for art was inherited from his late father Lee Byung-chull, the founder of Samsung, who mainly collected antique art pieces such as celadon. Lee succeeded to Lee Byung-chull's collection and grew it into a larger one including about 20 National Treasures, making him the biggest individual collector of such rare artefacts.

Lee promoted a project to collect 100 National Treasures between the 1980s and '90s to heighten the value of his collection. According to the former vice director of the Ho-Am Art Museum who assisted Lee and his father in their collection of antiques, he was fond of "baekja," or white porcelain, and spared no expense to obtain valuable artwork.

The Samsung Foundation of Culture, which operates two art museums, also has a number of National Treasures in its collection.

Lee founded the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, in Hannam-dong, Seoul in 2004, in addition to the Ho-Am Art Museum, located in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province.

Leeum is arguably one of the top private art museums in Korea. Designed by three renowned architects Jean Nouvel, Rem Koolhaas and Mario Botta, the museum has permanent exhibitions of Korean traditional and contemporary art as well as special exhibitions, presenting works by Olafur Eliasson, Alexander Calder and Anish Kapoor.

It has also presented exhibitions of internationally acclaimed Korean artists Yang Hae-gue and Suh Do-ho, and held biennial Artspectrum projects to discover new talent.

However, being deeply rooted in the family collection hindered the museum's activities.

Lee's wife Hong Ra-hee served as director of the museums, but resigned in March 2017 after her son and Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Jae-yong was indicted and imprisoned for bribery. After Hong's resignation, the museum canceled all its special exhibitions, including a major Kim Whan-ki retrospective, which was one of the most highly anticipated exhibits that year.

Currently, both museums are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Paik Nam-june's
Paik Nam-june's "The More, The Better" consists of 1,003 televisions provided by Samsung Electronics, after Lee Kun-hee began to sponsor renowned Korean artists. Korea Times file

Lee also supported Korean artists in various ways.

He first met the late avant-garde artist Paik Nam-june, often dubbed the father of video art, in 1987 and agreed to support him by providing televisions.

As a video artist, televisions were an indispensable part of Paik's works and the artist had been using the Japanese brand Sony, but changed to Samsung Electronics after Lee offered support.

"The More, The Better," Paik's monumental 18-meter-tall video installation commemorating the 1988 Seoul Olympics, consists of 1,003 televisions provided by Samsung. Currently, the video artwork is at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Gwacheon undergoing restoration.

Lee also supported major exhibitions of Korean artists abroad, including Lee U-fan, who won the Ho-Am Prize in the Arts in 2001. Samsung sponsored Lee U-fan's retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in 2011.


Kwon Mee-yoo meeyoo@koreatimes.co.kr

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