[FOUNTAIN]The true value of artOne day, Mr. K, who lives in a small town near Seoul, visited a doctor’s office in his neighborhood. He was surprised to find a painting by a famous artist that must have cost tens of million won on the wall in the reception area. He asked, “Don’t you feel insecure about hanging such an expensive painting where so many people come and go?” The doctor smiled and replied, “No, because nobody will think it’s real.”
Collecting art is the ultimate hobby of the rich. Until the 1960s, works of art were not traded in Korea. Painters used to consider it a disgrace to put a price on their work and thought that selling a painting would destroy its artistic integrity. A restaurant owner who used to have a business in Insa-dong often bragged that a master artist had painted a mural for his restaurant instead of paying for his food. This very Korean tradition was an obstacle to the development of an art market in this country. In Western civilization, art has always prospered where money was abundant. Ancient Roman sculptures are either images of gods made for aristocrats or aristocracts depicted as gods. The power of money has grown still greater ever since a popular market for arts was created in the 17th century.
Last week, Seoul National University’s “600,000 won ($625) artworks exhibition” was hailed as a great success. Celebrating the 60th anniversary of its opening, the university sold works by alumni for $625 a piece. Over 30,000 people visited the exhibition and some pieces had 1,000 potential buyers, the actual purchaser being determined by the drawing of lots. While the artworks sold were small pieces, they could be re-sold for several thousand dollars in the open market so anyone who “won” a piece at the exhibition could immediately make a profit. Because the value of the pieces as investments overwhelmed their value as art, some derided the exhibition as “art gambling.” However, the exhibition achieved its objective of lowering barriers between celebrated artists and the public, at least for 10 days. It was also an opportunity to assess the level of demand for art. What was regrettable is that buyers often did not buy based on their taste but on the reputation of the artists.
Exhibitions that target the general public are often held in local cities. New artwork is introduced in over 100 galleries around Korea. If buyers don’t over-emphasize investment value, they can find a painting to suit their taste. They might be able to buy more than a small piece with $600: And it is much better to own an original piece of art that refelcts an artist’s soul than to own a print of a masterpiece.
by Kim Jin-kook
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.