Over the course of his life, Lee Kun-hee, the former chairman of Samsung Electronics who died in 2020, collected more than 20,000 artworks. The collection is reported to be worth billions of dollars. In the months after the collector’s death, many speculated about what would happen to his holdings. His heirs began considering selling the cache to avoid a huge estate bill, causing many to fear that it would leave South Korea.
In order to prevent many of these masterpieces from heading to sale, the South Korean government negotiated with the family, leading to the donation of 23,000 artworks to museums across the country.
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In his collecting, Lee focused primarily on Korean art, from traditional work to modern artistic experiments. (Some 20,000 works of traditional Korean art will head to the National Museum of Korea in Seoul as part of the deal.) But Lee had a distinct eye for juxtapositions of modern Korean art with Impressionism and European modernism, which were both strong suits in the collection.
Around 1,200 works have been gifted to the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA), which has already organized an exhibition of the donation, “Lee Kun-hee Collection: Masterpieces of Korean Art.” The show runs until March 13, 2022, at the museum’s Seoul branch; more exhibitions are planned in the coming months.
Below a look at the works from Lee’s collection that are now part of the MMCA’s collection.