Two national treasures to be auctioned
The Kansong Art and Culture Foundation is putting two of its national treasures up for auction — the first national treasures ever to be auctioned.
The two treasures are the Portable Shrine of Gilt-bronze Buddha Triad believed to date to the 11th to 12th century and the Gilt-bronze Standing Buddha Triad with Inscription of "Gyemi Year” from the 6th century.
The auction is set for 4 p.m. on Jan. 27 at K Auction in southern Seoul. Potential bidders can view the pieces from Monday after making a reservation.
On Jan. 14, Kansong released a statement saying it decided to sell the two national treasures for financial reasons and appealed to the public “to please understand as it was an indispensable decision, and a hard one to make, for the future of Kansong.”
Starting prices have not been set but K Auction estimates around 2.8 to 4 billion won ($2.35 million to $3.35 million) for the Portable Shrine of Gilt-bronze Buddha Triad and 3.2 to 4.5 billion won for the Gilt-bronze Standing Buddha Triad with Inscription of "Gyemi Year.”
State-designated properties are restricted from being taken outside the country or sold overseas. Only domestic transactions are possible and must be reported to the Cultural Heritage Administration (CHA).
In 2020, Kansong put three treasures — one rank down from national treasures — up for auction at two separate events.
The foundation possesses about 5,000 items, including 12 national treasures and 32 treasures.
None of the three treasures — a Gilt-bronze Standing Buddha dating to the Unified Silla Period (668-935), a Gilt-bronze Standing Bodhisattva dating to the Three Kingdoms Period (57 B.C. to A.D. 668) and Haeak palgyeong and Songyu palhyeondo (Album of Eight Scenic Views of Seas and Mountains and Eight Confucian Scholars of the Song Dynasty) by renowned landscape painter Gyeomjae Jeong Seon (1676-1759) of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) — attracted any bids.
The National Museum of Korea purchased the two Buddhist statues from Kansong after the auction in August 2020 for a little less than 3 billion won. The museum told the Korea JoongAng Daily on Monday that it is “currently considering whether to purchase the two national treasures and the decision will be made after evaluating the value and price.” However, it is highly likely that the National Museum can’t afford both as its annual budget to purchase cultural properties is 4 billion won.
When the two Buddhist pieces were offered at auction in July 2020, insiders expected Kansong to eventually auction off its two national treasures as the foundation said that it will “sell Buddhist relics and focus on preserving important works of calligraphy, paintings and ceramics.” Kansong's other important Buddhist pieces were the two national treasures.
“We heard about two weeks ago that it was indeed the two Buddhist relics that will be the next items to be auctioned off by Kansong,” said Shin Tae-woong, an official from the Spokesperson Office at CHA.
The Kansong family, descendants of the famous collector Jeon Hyeong-pil (1906-62) whose pen name was Kansong, are known for their stalwart protection of high-profile treasures of Korea. As the late Jeon was admired by Koreans for dedicating his fortune to buying and preserving the country’s treasures during Japanese colonization, preventing them from ending up in Japan or elsewhere, the news of the foundation facing financial troubles came as a shock to the public.
Last July, the Kansong Art and Culture Foundation created 100 pieces of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, of the Haerye section of “Hunminjeongeum,” a guide to hangul, the Korean alphabet, for 100 million won each to help it financially.
According to CHA, the Gilt-bronze Standing Buddha Triad with Inscription of “Gyemi Year” is considered the oldest Buddha triad with a mandala, a geometric configuration of symbols — a representative feature for ancient Buddhist statues of the Three Kingdoms Period. As for the Portable Shrine of Gilt-bronze Buddha Triad, it is composed of a portable shrine, which is 18 centimeters (0,59 feet) tall and a small Buddha triad that can be placed inside the shrine. CHA said the triad and the shrine provide valuable information on the traditional style of Korean architecture and carving techniques developed during or before the Goryeo Period (913-1392).
BY YIM SEUNG-HYE [firstname.lastname@example.org]