Intimate look at private collections

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Intimate look at private collections


In the past, collectors have often been typecast in movies and books as dark, bizarre characters in ill-lit back rooms, surrounded by secrets and caught up in the past. “Possessive,” “compulsive” and “controlling” are adjectives frequently associated with them. They were the unsettling kooks in mystery or horror novels or the spooky misfits of the neighborhood.
In truth, these stereotypes have some truth behind them as “collecting” goes beyond observing and passively appreciating beauty. The act of collecting fulfills an urge to possess the object of one’s fascination. However, the world of collectors has broader boundaries than the limited definitions these images allow.

For one, the art of collecting has become more and more accessible as the act shifted from being an expensive hobby for aristocrats to an academic sideline for scholars during the 16th century and has gradually developed into an interesting pasttime with mass appeal.
The art of collecting also has a lively history in Korea. “During the 1990s, there was a gradual shift from collecting as a means of investment to collecting for one’s own likes and tastes,” said Kim In-seon, co-organizer of the “Living Room: Collection 1” exhibition taking place in Daelim Contemporary Art Museum in central Seoul.
In this exhibition, the truth of the above statement by Ms. Kim can literally be witnessed by anyone with 4,000 won ($4) to spare, as the exhibition recreates the living rooms of six private collectors, in which their assemblages of modern art and vintage furniture are displayed with other articles just as they usually are in these collectors’ own homes.
The reason? “To place art in the context of everyday life, collapsing the gap between art and life,” states Kim Sun-jung, a professor at the Korean National University of Arts and the other co-organizer of the exhibition.

For the six collectors who emptied their living rooms for the exhibition, from April 29 to July 2, the experience may be inconvenient, but for the viewers, the show presents an opportunity to witness an intimate section of each collector’s life, as if an invited guest in their homes.
Suh Jung-gi, a fashion designer and one of the collectors featured in the show, said his enthusiasm for collecting started with a sliding door. “My sister was an enormous influence. She used to take me on visits to Insa-dong (the traditional neighborhood for antiques in Seoul). On these trips, she always enjoyed explaining things to me. As I recall, back then, Tong-in Store had a sliding, Japanese-style door. I still have a vivid image of the gallery in the front of the store and a door in the back opening on to a salon filled with magnificent objects.”
Mr. Suh, who is a well-known collector of the late Paik Nam-june’s works, continued, “I felt both fascinated and privileged to be in front of all those objects.”
His living room is filled with bold, contrasting elements. An embroidered court robe from the Chinese Ching dynasty hangs above two clear modern chairs by Cini B Oeri and Tomu Katayanagi. A plate painted by the late pop artist Keith Haring sits opposite a Chinese Zitan-wood bamboo bird cage. Visitors can also view Paik Nam-june’s “Fish Tank,” “TV Cello” and “Self Portrait,” all of which usually adorn Mr. Suh’s home.

Another memorable living room is that of Kim Chang-il, or CI Kim, owner of the gallery Arario. His choices for his living space display both his taste for up-and-coming artists and his power and success in the popular art world. Many of the contemporary art pieces in his collection are easily- recognizable and impressive ― works by Thomas Ruff, Tracey Emin, Lee Dong-wook and Duane Hanson sit in his living room alongside Mr. Kim’s own work, “CIK00754.”
Not all the rooms showcase grand, notable artworks and ancient items, as there are also modern, minimalist spaces included.
“We wanted to bring an element of friction. To do this, we arranged the living rooms so that contrasting rooms were next to each other,” Kim In-seon explained.
An example is the juxtaposition of the living rooms of an anonymous collector, “C,” and the interior designer Lee Ji-young, which are situated on the same floor. Whereas collector C’s room is classic, neo-Victorian and almost baroque, with antique cabinets and jewelry boxes, Ms. Lee’s room is starkly minimalist, with a photograph by Candida Hofer providing the color palette for her living decor of brown, ivory, white and black.
The modern approach taken by each of the six collectors displays the individual taste of each without a bourgeois context lurking beneath. Although many of the pieces are worth hefty sums, others are trinkets that have been found in antique stores in Seoul or through popular online auction sites, such as eBay.
“The trend in collecting has changed from investment pieces to modern art to collecting works by promising young artists. It is no longer a question of authority and prestige but a playground for individual taste,” said Kim In-seon.

by Cho Jae-eun

“Living Room: Collection 1” runs through July 2 in Daelim Contemporary Art Museum in Togui-dong, central Seoul. Admission is 4,000 won ($4) for adults and 2,000 won for students. The gallery hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The nearest subway station is Gyeongbokgung station line No. 3, exit 4. For more information call (02) 720-0667 or visit
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