Seoul Auction to refund MMCA over 2003 sale of counterfeit painting

By Shim Woo-hyun

MMCA Director Mari pledges inspection of MMCA‘s collection

  • Published : Oct 12, 2018 - 17:07
  • Updated : Oct 12, 2018 - 17:16

Seoul Auction is to refund the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art over the 2003 sale of a painting that has since been declared a counterfeit.

During a parliamentary audit of the state museum on Thursday, Rep. Kim Jae-won of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party pointed out that the museum had bought a counterfeit of Rhee Seund-ja’s painting “Memory of Hidden Trees” and criticized the museum for lax management of its collection.

Memory of Hidden Trees,” which has been declared a counterfeit (MMCA)

The MMCA purchased the work in 2003 at an auction organized by Seoul Auction. At the time of the sale, the painting’s owner provided a certificate of authenticity signed by Rhee, Seoul Auction said. Rhee’s family also confirmed the signature on the certificate as authentic before the item was put up for sale, the auction firm officials said. The artist died in 2009.

In 2012, Rhee’s family raised the counterfeit issue, which the museum dismissed, claiming that the certificate of authenticity was proof that the painting was by Rhee.

The family now claims that they have the original work.

In February, questions over the work’s authenticity were raised by an MMCA curator as the museum was preparing for an exhibition marking the artist’s centennial. The exhibition opened in March without the painting, as the museum concluded, after consultations with outside experts, that the piece was a counterfeit.

“The auction firm respects the museum’s conclusion over the painting and will try its best to cooperate with the museum to resolve the issue. The firm has decided to first make a refund to the museum, on behalf of the client who originally owned the piece,” a Seoul Auction’s official said.

Whether the MMCA will pursue damages is yet unclear. “We are reviewing legal options on how to claim compensation for damages,” an MMCA official in charge of public relations told The Korea Herald Friday.

Bartomeu Mari (first from right), director of the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, attends the parliamentary audit of government offices held on Thursday at the National Assembly in Seoul. (Yonhap)“

Meanwhile, the MMCA will carry out an inspection of its collection. Outgoing museum director Bartomeu Mari pledged the inspection Thursday as Rep. Kim questioned the authenticity of other works in the museum’s collection that totals more than 8,000 works.

In a separate statement issued on Thursday, the MMCA said that some 70 percent of its artworks were acquired directly from artists or their family members. Some 1,000 works were bought from collectors, auctions and galleries and thus may require thorough inspection.

The museum added that it started the inspection process in 2009 and has been carrying out inspection of 100 artworks each year since then.

By Shim Woo-hyun (