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  • Apr 15, 2021

Late Samsung chairman’s art collection may stay in South Korea

Portrait of LEE KUN-HEE, the late Samsung chairman. Image via Twitter.

Ahead of the April 30 deadline for the payment of a KRW 13 trillion (USD 11.7 billion) inheritance tax by the heirs of the late Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee, there is much speculation about which Korean institutions will receive donations of artworks from Lee’s extensive collection, which was reportedly being appraised for sales to offset the tax.

Lee’s collection comprises around 13,000 items of antiques, modern, and contemporary art, of which 30 have been deemed Korean National Treasures, while approximately 1,300 pieces are by Western artists. The Korean Art Poetry Appraisal Association, Korean Art Appraisal Research Center, and the Art Appraisal Committee of the Korean Gallery Association have been conducting evaluations since December 2020, and the final appraisal has reportedly been completed, amounting to KRW 2.5–3 trillion (USD 2.2–2.7 billion), according to Yonhap newspaper on April 14. 

Numerous media outlets have since discussed the fate of this collection, with reports saying that possibly “more than half” will be donated across Korean institutions. Amid earlier fears about the dispersal of the collection overseas through sales, the Dongha-Ilbo reported that in accordance to Article 12 of the Inheritance Tax and Gift Tax Act, the heirs could potentially be partially exempted from the inheritance tax if they donate to state or public organizations such as art museums or cultural foundations. 

According to an official from the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA), the institution is in the final stages of discussions with Samsung regarding donations, as reported by the Dong-a Ilbo. The late chairman’s daughter Lee Seo-hyun, who may be leading the process, joined a MMCA event in February and also attended a Gwacheon exhibition in March. Meanwhile, the National Museum of Korea has also allegedly been in talks with the family “in an informal manner.” 

Maeil Business Daily reported that an official from the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, which runs the National Museum of Korea and the MMCA, has said, "We are discussing donation, but it is polite to wait for Samsung to announce it." The two institutions will likely receive a large bulk of the donation, with national treasures going to the National Museum of Korea, and major works of modern and contemporary Korean art going to the MMCA. 

South Korea’s most influential businessman Lee Kun-hee died in October 2020, and left more than KRW 22 trillion (USD 19.6 billion) in assets. The family has yet to release details of its decision regarding his collection.

Yuna Lee is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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