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National Museum of Korea acquires two state-designated treasures from Kansong Art Museum

State museum purchases Buddhist relics that failed to sell at auction in May

Treasure No. 285, Gilt-Bronze Standing Bodhisattva (left), and Treasure No. 284, Gilt-Bronze Standing Buddha (National Museum of Korea)
Treasure No. 285, Gilt-Bronze Standing Bodhisattva (left), and Treasure No. 284, Gilt-Bronze Standing Buddha (National Museum of Korea)


The National Museum of Korea announced Monday that it has purchased two state-designated treasures from the Kansong Art Museum.

The newly acquired items -- Treasure No. 284, Gilt-Bronze Standing Buddha, and Treasure No. 285, Gilt-Bronze Standing Bodhisattva -- will be displayed in the museum’s permanent exhibition hall when it reopens. The museum shut down Aug. 16 after one of its employees tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The two state-designated treasures were put up for auction at K Auction in May but were returned to the Kansong Art Museum because there were no bidders. The auction’s starting price for each of the two statues was 1.5 billion won ($1.26 million).

The national museum said K Auction and the Kansong Art Museum in June approached the NMK about possible sales. It was the first such talks since the failed auction, according to the NMK. The national museum’s final decision to buy the two Buddhist relics was made in July.

Back in May, the Kansong Art Museum said it had decided to auction off treasures because of the financial difficulties it has been having since the death of its founder, Kansong Chun Hyung-pil, in 1962.

The Kansong Art Museum explained that its expenditure had surged since 2013, when it began holding more events and exhibitions in hopes of making the museum more public-friendly. On top of that, the founder’s eldest son, Chun Sung-woo, died in 2018, resulting in a large inheritance tax bill that has put further financial strain.

Following the failed auction, some cultural property experts speculated that the museum might decide to enter sales negotiations with the National Museum of Korea. But the high price of the two pieces was seen as an obstacle, as the state-run museum’s annual budget for acquisitions is 4 billion won.

On Monday, the museum confirmed that the two statues had been purchased out of that budget.

“We do not disclose the individual prices for our purchased treasures. But it was done within our budget,” Kim Se-won, a curator from the National Museum of Korea’s collection management division, told The Korea Herald.

The museum also added that it had decided to purchase the two items to honor Kansong Chun Hyung-pil’s determination to protect valuable national heritage. Chun established the Kansong Art Museum in 1938, during the Japanese colonial era, to prevent precious cultural artifacts from being taken out of the country.

“We do not purchase all state-designated treasures. Once there is an offer, then we go through our own process to make our decision,” Kim said.

The National Museum of Korea said it would conduct further scientific and academic research about the two state-designated treasures.

Meanwhile, Treasure No. 1,796 -- album “Haeak Palgyeong and Songyu Palhyeondo,” comprising 16 paintings by Jeong Seon, an artist hailed as a Joseon-era master of landscape painting -- also failed to attract bidders when it was put up for auction in July. The bidding at K Auction started at 5 billion won.

Asked whether K Auction has asked the national museum to purchase the work, Son Yee-chan, an official from the auction firm, declined to answer.

By Song Seung-hyun (ssh@heraldcorp.com)
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