The Kansong Art Museum, the oldest private institution in Seoul, has revealed plans to sell two centuries-old objects this month. The sale, which will be facilitated by K Auction, one of the largest auction houses in South Korea, is set for January 27, and could set a new record for an artifact sold in the country, the Korea Herald reported last week. Together, the two works could bring in as much as $71 million.
The two objects headed to sale are a sculpture of a shrine and a sculpture of a Buddha triad that date back to between the 11th and 12th centuries and the 6th century, respectively. They had been deemed “national treasures,” a status given to artifacts, artworks, and archaeological sites of note by the South Korean state. Fewer than 400 artifacts and sites are currently on the list of national treasures.
The shrine work contains a Buddha sculpture within it, and is expected to generate between 28 billion won and 40 billion won, or between $23.6 million and $33.7 million. The gilt bronze Buddha triad is expected to sell for between 32 billion won and 45 billion won, or between $26.8 million and $37.7 billion.
It is not the first time that the Kansong Art Museum has sold works from its holdings in recent memory. In May 2020, it sold two sculptures—one of a Buddha, the other of a bodhisattva—at K Auction; both had also been deemed national treasures. Neither found a buyer at that sale, where each sculpture had been priced at 1.5 billion won ($1.26 million), but the National Museum of Korea ended up purchasing them for an undisclosed price. A representative for that institution told the Korea Herald that the museum was considering buying the two works being sold later this month as well.
The Kansong Art Museum has been closed since 2014. The museum is currently in the process of constructing a new storage facility, and it has been plagued by various financial woes, including the payment of unspecified inheritance taxes that were first reported in 2020. (At the time, many in South Korea were focused on a record-shattering inheritance bill impacting the estate of Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee, who died that same year and left behind a massive art collection that has since headed to state-run museums.) News of a potential reopening for the Kansong Art Museum has been rumored since 2019. This past November, museum officials told the Korea Herald that the Kansong Art Museum could reopen in 2022.