Seoul: Scramble for the Future
By Andy St. Louis
Koreans of all ages and backgrounds had art on their mind in 2021, when the entire country became fixated on the prodigious art collection amassed by late Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee, who passed away in late 2020. As Korea’s wealthiest man, Lee left behind a reported net worth of USD 21 billion, and with it an inheritance tax bill of more than USD 10 billion. In a bid to avoid losing control of Samsung (which in 2020 accounted for some 20 percent of the country’s GDP) and to partially offset their onerous tax burden, Lee’s heirs donated more than 23,000 artworks, artifacts, and rare books from his collection—at an appraised value of USD 2.2 billion—to the state. Highlights from the Lee Kun-hee collection went on view in a special exhibition at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) in July (7/21–3/13/22), and tickets promptly sold out for months ahead of time as audiences flocked to see masterworks by Kim Whanki, Yoo Youngkuk, Lee Jung-seop, and Chang Ucchin.