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[Opinion] Koreans at Christie`s

Posted March. 26, 2003 22:21,   


Only a small number of Korean art works are now traded in the global antique market. Sotheby`s, which dominates the global antique auction market with Christie`s, once said, “If we compare Chinese art works to a `sea,` Japanese` are like a `river` and Korean like a `brook.`” World`s renowned museums allocate spacious spots for Chinese and Japanese antiques, while it is hard to find a Korean exhibition room. Chances are that people across the world have little knowledge about Korean culture as they see few.

The small number, however, does not mean that the country has made fewer art works than other countries. It is mainly because we dumped precious cultural remains so easily throughout the course of economic development in the 1960s and the 1970s. The fact that this country is so strict about taking antiques out of the country also contributes to the small number. The strict rule seems to have something do with our past experience. We had to just give away our treasures to the Japanese during the colonial period. This is why we feel so proud and happy when we have our stolen treasures back.

Yet, we must also keep in mind that something `Korean` will always be `Korean` wherever it may be. When we have our treasures back, we tend to pay little attention to the works. At this very moment, many art works and remains are being marred or destroyed for the sake of economic development. Then, it might be better to let them be displayed before the world audience rather than being neglected at home, except some priceless treasures.

Korean antiques and modern arts are now sold for hefty prices in Sotheby`s and Christie`s. Although they make it a rule to keep the names of buyers in secrete, it is said that quite a few Koreans are among the rich buyers. It is also speculated that they buy them for hefty prices to raise auction prices of similar art works at home, which means it is nothing but collusion among Koreans and the works are bound to return to Korea. To promote the beauty of Korean art throughout the world, we first need to break our old mindset about preserving our culture.

Hong Chan-shik, Editorial Writer, chansik@donga.com