Korea Art News: Korean Art Auction’s Highest Bidders Appear in Three Years
During a Christie’s Hong Kong auction on November 23, 2019 at the Grand Hall of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC), there was a fierce competition between the floor and telephone bidding lasting more than ten minutes for an artwork. The auction price, which started at about HKD 42 million (KRW 6.3 billion), easily exceeded HKD 67 million (KRW 10 billion). As questions grew about who would win the bid, the competition on the site heated up. Finally, the telephone bidder made a winning move. About HKD 88 million (excluding purchase fees, KRW 13.2 billion) was the final winning bid.
It was an auction that rewrote the history of Korean art. It was the first case in the history of Korean art auctions to exceed KRW 10 billion and the highest number of Korean artists. This artwork is 5-IV-71 #200 (Universe) by artist Kim Whan-ki (1913 – 1974). At the time, the identity of the winning telephone bidder was unknown.
Universe, which easily exceeded the estimated bid price of KRW 7.3 billion to 9.5 billion, received attention even before the auction began. At that time, Christie’s worked so hard that it published an abstract for the work. This painting, the only two-width piece by Kim, is a masterpiece that symbolizes the energy and mystery of the universe, dealing with dual beings such as the sun and moon, light and shadow, women and men. The total size is 254×254cm, and the point filled with squares forms a huge universe by drawing a blue circle.
Kim made the work in the 1970s while staying in New York. The chronology of Kim’s works is largely divided into Tokyo/Seoul (1933-1955), Paris/Seoul (1956-1962), and New York (1963-1974). During the New York era, Kim actively used dot, line, and surface to pursue paintings that formed a universal consensus beyond national colors. The first buyer of the work was Kim Ma-tae, a supporter, friend, and doctor of artist Kim. The work, which Kim Ma-tae had owned for more than 40 years, was auctioned in 2019. This auction attracted a lot of attention because it was a work that was watched by auction houses and galleries around the world, including in Korea. Space broke Kim’s auction record. Previously, the highest record was 3-II-72 #220 (1972), which was sold at the Hong Kong auction with Seoul Auction in May 2018, for HKD 62 million (KRW 8.53 billion).
Despite this popularity, the owner of the most expensive painting in Korea was veiled. However, in July, the successful bidder for Universe was revealed: Kim Woong-ki, chairman of Global Sae-A Group. As Global Sae-A Group announced the opening of Gallery S2A in Seoul, it announced that Chairman Kim Woong-ki has Universe. Global Sae-A Group started with clothing manufacturing and export in 1986 and has affiliates such as F&B, construction, paper/packaging, and IT. In particular, the company is currently in the process of acquiring Ssangyong Engineering & Construction (Ssangyong E&C) with synergy in mind with its construction subsidiary. With the opening of Gallery S2A, it is also stepping into the culture and arts business. Although the timing has not been decided, it is also known that Universe will be unveiled through special exhibitions.