• News
  • Mar 09, 2021

Will Korea Change Its Tax Laws to Keep Samsung Collection?

The late businessman LEE KUN-HEE

A group consisting of 12 South Korean arts organizations and eight former Ministers of Culture is lobbying the Korean government for the use of cultural assets as in-kind tax payments to prevent the overseas sale of the art collection of the late Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee (1942–2020). Lee’s heirs are due to pay a record-high inheritance tax of KRW 11 trillion (USD 9.8 billion) by the end of April. 

The country’s most influential businessman, Lee, who died in October 2020, amassed around 13,000 art objects, comprised of antiques, and modern and contemporary art, with an estimated worth of over KRW 3 trillion (USD 2.7 billion). The group of cultural leaders, which also includes the Korean Fine Arts Association and Korean Museum Association, released a joint-statement on March 3 calling for the country’s National Assembly to “immediately amend in-kind tax payment laws,” according to The Korea Economic Daily. Under the current law, artworks cannot be used to pay taxes, though real-estate and securities are accepted in-kind. The group fears that the current structure de-incentivizes the donation of Lee’s collection of works by Western masters—such as paintings by Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, and Francis Bacon, among others—to domestic institutions. 

Described by the group as a unique opportunity for the Korean public to enjoy these masterpieces, the group believes that housing Lee’s collection in domestic arts institutions will also elevate the status of the country’s museums. At the same time, there are budgetary constraints for local museums to acquire these standout pieces. The value of Alberto Giacometti’s sculpture Tall Woman III (1960) in Lee’s collection, for example, is estimated at KRW 160 billion (USD 142 million), which is 33 times more than that of the annual art acquisition budget of Seoul’s National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA).

Lee’s collection of Korean antiques, including 30 deemed as National Treasures by the South Korean government, will likely be donated to institutions such as Seoul’s National Museum of Korea, due to a law that prohibits the overseas sale of domestically produced antiques.

Meanwhile, other sources reporting on talk from local art and business circles claim that the majority of Lee’s collection will be donated to the aforementioned museums as well as the family’s Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, in Seoul, and the Ho-Am Art Museum, in Yongin. According to Pulse News, Lee’s family will announce the results of the collection’s appraisal—which began in December 2020 and involved three appraisal groups—this week, while the family’s decision regarding the collection’s fate will be announced in due course.

Martine Ma is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.

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