The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA, Director Youn Bummo) presents MMCA Lee Kun-hee Collection: Masterpieces of Korean Art, from 21 July 2021 through 13 March 2022, at MMCA Seoul. The exhibition will serve as an opportunity for the extensive art collection of the late Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee to make the first public debut, and to ensure that such high quality works of modern and contemporary art are shared with the wider public.
Since its establishment in 1969, the MMCA has been acquiring artworks with the aim of contributing to defining Korean art history. The latest donation of Lee's collection, comprising of 1,488 pieces of artworks, which is being dubbed "the donation of the century" brings the scale of the museum's collection to over 10,000 works of art. Fifty-five percent of those were acquire through donations, which have helped to enrich the collection while overcoming the constraints of a limited acquisition budget.
The modern and contemporary art works donated by the family of the late Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee is the largest in terms of its size. It is also very significant in that it has enabled the artworks to be enjoyed by a wider public by adding enormous qualitative and quantitative advancements to the MMCA's collection. Its 1,488 works of art run the gamut of modern and contemporary art, including rare and major masterpieces of artists from home and abroad representing the 20th century.
The vast Lee Kun-hee collection comprises of 1,369 artworks by Korean artists and 119 overseas artworks. By genre, it includes 412 paintings, 371 prints, 296 works of Hangukhwa (Korean traditional painting), 161 drawings, 136 crafts, 104 sculptures, and 8 photographs and videos. It also includes works by Kim Hwanki, Park Sookeun, Lee Jungseop, Lee Ungno, Yoo Youngkuk, and Kwon Jinkyu.
The exhibition, which is where Lee's collection makes its first public debut, displays 58 representative works by Korea's favorite 34 artists. Most of the works to be on display have been produced from the 1920s to 70s, and will be displayed under the following three themes:
First, Adoption and Transformation. Under the Japanese occupation, Korea adopted new forms of culture, which has also brought about new changes in art. The Western medium of oil painting made its first appearance, while new and unfamiliar terms have been coined, including "figure painting," "still-life," and "landscape painting." This period was also when changes were brought about in traditional Korean calligraphy. Under the theme, audiences can compare and contrast the characteristics of the East and the West through representative works including Paradise by Baik Namsoon (ca. 1936) and Peach Blossom Spring (1922) by Lee Sangbeom.
Second, Shows of Individuality. Shortly after being liberated from the Japanese rule in 1945, the Korean War broke out on the Korean Peninsula in 1950. Even amid this maelstrom of unrest, Korean artists continued their career as artists by opening exhibitions and seeking for new types of art. The unique artworks by artists like Kim Whanki, Yoo Youngkuk, Park Sookeun, and Lee Jungseop, whose lives were full of ups and downs, serve as the backbone of Korean art. Works from this period, including Kim Whanki's Women and Jars (1950s), Lee Jungseop's Bull (1950s), and Park Sookeun's Woman Pounding Grain (1954) make up a large proportion of the Lee's collection.
Last but not least, Setting Down Roots and Seeking New Avenues. Even during the period of continued unrest following the Korean War, many artists continued to explore their own unique artistic visions by settling in at home and abroad. Figures such as Rhee Seundja, Nam Kwan, Lee Ungno, Kwon Okyon, Kim Sou, Park Saengkwang, and Chun Kyungja increased their artistic activities abroad. Lee's collection includes many representative works by the aforementioned artists including Rhee Seundja's A Thousand Years Old House (1961) and Kim Sou's Korean Women (1959).
The works of Lee's collection are currently undergoing procedures of being registered as the MMCA's collections including close inspection on their conditions, investigation, imagery recording, discussion on copyright, and research, after which will be uploaded on the museum's webpage. The MMCA also plans to provide exhibitions and education sessions to shed light on the significance of donation by the late Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee and members of his family, while also enabling the public to continue enjoy the works of art.
Youn Bummo, director of the MMCA extended his gratitude to "the bereaved family of the late Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee for the vast donation of artworks with significant value in terms of art history, making this exhibition possible," adding "continuing on from this exhibition, the MMCA will grant more opportunities for the public to enjoy the high quality donated artworks and continue to expand the horizon of the research on art history by studying Lee's collection going forward."