A Couple Participated in a Non-Participatory Mural

A couple in Seoul were horrified to learn that they had mistaken an abstract mural worth $440,000 for participatory art.  JonOne, an American graffiti artist living and working in Paris, painted Untitled in front of a live audience at the Seoul Arts Center in 2016.  The large piece was hanging unframed in Jamsi’s Lotte World Mall in Seoul as part of the Street Noise exhibition, featuring graffiti artists from around the world.

(Pictured above) The three brushstrokes mistakenly added by a couple from Seoul to the mural artwork “Untitled” valued at $400,000 at the time.

The couple added three green brushstrokes to the center of the mural, believing that the brushes and paint cans on display as props were an invitation to participate in the exhibition.  Baffled organizers alerted police, who were able to identify the couple via security cameras.  

The couple has inadvertently sparked a conversation on how audience engagement, whether invited or not, will alter a piece of art.  And though unintentional, it is not the first time that pricey artwork has been defaced by passersby.  David Datuna, a Georgian-born performance artist, grabbed headlines in late 2019 when he ate a banana that was part of an art installation worth $120,000.  Datuna does not regret his actions, saying that his eating of the banana was a piece of performance art.

Charges have not been filed against the couple at JonOne’s request, while organizers called the vandalism an “honest mistake.”  The incident brought worldwide attention to the mural, and ironically may have increased its value.  

“With just three brush strokes on my canvas, they have managed to cause a planetary buzz?!?  There is strength in that,” JonOne wrote in an email to Vice.  Still, additional security has been added to all of the pieces on display, including more prominent signage warning “Do Not Touch.”

The Street Noise exhibition is on until June 13, 2021.  There’s no word yet on whether JonOne will leave the piece as is, or restore it to its original condition.

World Art Day 2021 – Through a Covid-19 Lens

April 15th marked UNESCO World Art Day, which was observed by way of virtual conferences, workshops, and exhibitions around the globe.  This celebration of fine arts supports artistic contributions to society and culture and seeks to increase arts education.  

The Kenya National Commission for UNESCO hosted a virtual dialogue around “Creativity Amidst Crisis.”  The discussions focused on the social and economic impact of Covid-19 on African artists, and how to counteract these challenges.

Los Angeles virtually hosted the United States celebrations.  The US-based not-for-profit International Association of the Art (IAA) used the theme You’re Not Alone, and organizers called on artists to submit pieces for a virtual exhibition.  They asked for art that “evokes your favorite pre-COVID memory, your current daydreams, or act as a letter to a fellow artist.”  A panel of jurors selected pieces to be featured on the IAA website.

The date of April 15th is poignant for World Art Day as it is believed to be Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday.  The virtual exhibition You’re Not Alone runs until May 15th.

Benin Bronze Update

Last month, the University of Aberdeen announced that they would return the Benin Bronzes in their possession back to the Edo people of Nigeria.  On April 29th, Germany confirmed it would follow suit, and begin returning the artifacts in their possession beginning in 2022.

Returning the Benin Bronzes
(Pictured above) The Benin Bronzes were pieces like this that were part of the return to Nigeria by the University of Aberdeen. @ Reuters

“We face up to our historic and moral responsibility to shine a light and work on Germany’s historic past,” said German culture minister Monika Grütters. 

Germany has amassed over 1,100 sculptures, all pillaged by British soldiers in the late 19th century.  The Edo Museum of West African Art is being designed to house the returned sculptures and open in 2025.

There is still no word on whether the British Museum, the holder of the largest collection of bronzes, will also bow to the growing pressure.

A Treasure Trove of Donated Masterpieces

A veritable treasure trove of 23,000 rare art pieces, including works of Picasso, Monet, and Dali, are being donated to South Korean organizations by Samsung’s Lee family to offset large inheritance tax implications.  

(Pictured above) A portrait of the Chairman Lee Kun-hee, who died in October 2020, painted by South Korean artist Seunghwan Kim @ saatchiart

It had been feared by the Korean art community that these pieces would be sold to overseas collectors, given Korea’s lack of purchasing power for rare art.  The National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA) has a yearly budget of just $4.3 million, not enough for even one of the pieces in question.  Several Korean antiques are included in the collection, which by law cannot leave Korea.  These artifacts will remain in the National Museum of Korea.

Chairman Lee Kun-hee, who died at the age of 78 in October, was the son of the Samsung founder, and largely credited for turning Samsung into the technology giant that it is today.  Samsung has contributed substantially to South Korea’s economy, with their affiliated companies accounting for more than 20% of the Korean Stock Exchange.  

South Korea has the second-highest inheritance tax rates in the world at 50%, second only to Japan.  After the death of Mr. Lee, his family was faced with a $10.8 billion tax bill – three times what the country earned from inheritance taxes last year.  The Lee family has been anticipating the tax problem for years, and in 2008 Mr. Lee was convicted of tax evasion after illegally transferring shares in Samsung to his son.

Mr. Lee’s Western art collection includes the “Bouquet” series by Chagall, “Portrait of Dora Maar” by Picasso and “Untitled” by Rothko.  

(Pictured above) The rarely seen artwork “Le Bassin Aux Nymphéas” by Claude Monet created in 1919 which will be part of the donations by the Samsung Lee Family @ Christies

Some of the artwork has rarely been exhibited, including Claude Monet’s Le Bassin Aux Nymphéas, which has been seen in public just once in over 80 years.  This gives a unique opportunity for South Korea to provide a world-class art experience for both its population and visitors.  The MMCA has already announced that they will be exhibiting their gifted paintings by late 2021.  

The donated artwork is estimated to be worth $2.2 billion and given to various national and provincial museums throughout South Korea.