The Late Samsung Chairman’s Multibillion-Dollar Art Collection Is Getting Its Own Dedicated Museum in Seoul 

The announcement marks the latest twist in the fate of the 23,000-work collection.

Lee Kun-Hee, chairman of South Korea's largest group Samsung, speaks during a press conference at the group's headquarters in Seoul on April 22, 2008. Photo: Jung Yeon-Je via Getty Images.

This past spring, the heirs of the late Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee announced that the businessman’s multibillion-dollar collection of more than 23,000 works of art would be dispersed throughout public institutions in South Korea. But now the saga over the fate of the collection has taken another turn. This week, the country’s minister of culture, sports, and tourism, Hwang Hee, announced plans to build a new museum solely dedicated to the Lee collection. 

“There is a need to build a new art hall to better manage the donated art collection and study [it],” Hwang said at a press conference today, according to the Korea Herald. “The aim is to share the donator’s collection and his philosophy behind collecting the artwork with the wider public.”

The minister added that, while a proper budget has yet to be formulated, he expects the new museum to cost $88 million (₩100 billion). The venue’s tentative name is the Lee Kun-hee Donation Hall.

The artworks in the collection, including pricy pieces by Picasso, Basquiat, and Warhol, are expected to remain in Seoul, Lee’s longtime home. Two locations are currently being considered: one near the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, and the other on the grounds of the National Museum of Korea. Both museums already contain artworks from the Lee collection in their holdings. The ministry has convened a special committee to oversee the process of finding and building the new museum.

For those who can’t wait, a number of forthcoming shows will offer art audiences the opportunity to view pieces from the collection before they head to their final home. On July 21, both the National Museum of Korea and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art will open exhibitions of works from the Lee Collection.

Hwang said that a traveling exhibition is also in the works, and is expected to go on tour starting in late 2022. Meanwhile, presentations of the collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York are also being hammered out.  

In April, Lee’s heirs, including his son Lee Jae-yong and widow Hong Ra-hee, donated the majority of the collection to the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art and National Museum of Korea to offset some of the $11 billion (₩12.5 trillion) inheritance tax bill on Lee’s $20 billion (₩ 22 trillion) fortune. Because both institutions are state-owned and operated, the government controls the Lee collection. Works that were already given to regional museums will remain there in accordance with the donors’ wishes.

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