Hong Ra-hee, the director general of Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, in Seoul, resigned on Monday, March 6, citing personal reasons, in a statement released by the museum. She also resigned from her position as director of the Ho-Am Art Museum, a private art museum in Yongin that houses the private collection of Samsung founder Lee Byung-chul.
One of most powerful figures in the Korean art world, Hong is the wife of Lee Kun-hee, the chairman of South Korea’s largest chaebol, Samsung Group, and was the director of Leeum from its inception in 2004. She is also the mother of Lee Jae-yong, the acting head of Samsung Group who was indicted last week on bribery and embezzlement charges in the widening corruption investigation surrounding the impeachment of South Korea’s president Park Geun-Hye. The Korean media immediately linked Hong’s resignation with her son’s indictment, which continues to roil South Korea’s business world and political scene.
This is the second time that Hong has resigned from her directorship post at Leeum following a corruption scandal at the company. The first came in 2008 when her husband was charged with tax evasion and it was revealed that he kept a slush-fund of more than USD 60 million from which they allegedly bought more than 30 blue-chip artworks, including Roy Lichtenstein’s painting Happy Tears (1964) for USD 7.16 million, at a Christie’s auction in New York in 2002. The family denied all of the allegations of having purchased any of the artworks. Happy Tears was featured in a 2008 exhibition at Gagosian Gallery in New York and has never been shown in Korea. After that scandal abated, Hong returned to the directorship of Leeum in March 2011.
Hong graduated from Seoul National University, with a degree in applied arts. In January 1995, she assumed the directorship of Ho-Am Museum of Art founded by her father-in-law. Opened in 2004 in Seoul, Leeum showcases artworks from the family’s collection of more than 15,000 objects, from Korean traditional art to Korean and international modern and contemporary art. Hong was named to the board of trustees of Dia Art Foundation in March 2015.
H.G. Masters is editor-at-large of ArtAsiaPacific.
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