In four years, black dotted painting '4-VI-74 #334' leaps in value by 1.5 billion won
Paik Nam June’s ‘Stag’ shatters own record at 660 million won
Korean modern art has made waves in the Hong Kong art market. Seoul Auction’s 22nd Hong Kong Sale (063170) on May 28, 2017, saw a painting by Korean abstract art pioneer Kim Whanki (1913–1974) sell for KRW 1.5 billion over its previous price 4 years ago, as well as world-renowned Korean artist Paik Nam June (1932–2006) breaking his previous record price.
“4-VI-74 #334,” a black dot painting completed by Kim about a month before he passed away, was sold at auction for HK$14.5 million (approximately KRW 2.1 billion). This artwork had gone under the hammer for KRW 620 million at Seoul Auction’s June 2013 sale, and now four years on, has reemerged with a steep increase of KRW 1.5 billion. Kim’s legendary monochromic streak began in October 2015 when one of his blue dot paintings sold for KRW 4.72 billion. Six months later in April 2016, another of his pieces went for KRW 4.87 billion, then another for KRW 5.4 billion in June 2016, and another for KRW 6.33 billion in November 2016. All in all Kim’s work broke five consecutive records, the final one being in April of this year when “Tranquility 5-IV-73 #310” became the most expensive Korean artwork ever auctioned, fetching KRW 6.5 billion at a K Auction sale. To be precise, Kim’s art pieces can be estimated to have soared in value by KRW 1.8 billion in 18 months.
The value of an artwork is innately difficult to determine accurately, even for a single artist, given the combination of factors weighed against each other, including the work’s year, completeness and condition. Therefore a work’s provenance is an important indicator of its value. Consider dot painting “15-VII-70 #181” that had been sold for KRW 200 million by K Auction in November 2007. At Seoul Auction’s sale last September, it made KRW 630 million, which translates to an increase of 315% in value in a mere 9 years. Notwithstanding Kim’s reputation as one of the most significant figures in Korean modern art, it is undoubtedly his monochrome style paintings or “Dansaekhwa”, created in the 1970s, which have catapulted him to global art market prominence.
The recent 22nd Hong Kong Sale saw video art avant-gardist Paik Nam June claim a personal best with his video sculpture “Stag”, a 1996 work featuring female nudes embedded in video, which sold for HK$4.6 million (US$590,000 or KRW 660 million). Even though Paik is regarded as an extremely influential figure in international modern art, his works are generally undervalued in the art market. His previous record price was US$540,000 in November 2007 at a Christie’s Hong Kong sale for a piece titled “Wright Brothers.”
Also setting a personal best was Kim Heung-Sou (1919–2014) with “Le Ciel S'ecroule.” This outstanding example of the artist’s style of harmonism, a concept reflecting the harmony of yin and yang, fetched HK$3.8 million (KRW 550 million) at its debut in the international market. Seoul Auction CEO Lee Ok-kyung says, “Considering Paik’s achievements in the art world, it is a pity that his pieces are heavily undervalued in the market; nonetheless, the outcomes we have witnessed today are compelling,” and “I hope today’s results will show the international market the pioneering efforts and artistic value of our Korean contemporary artists.”
Sangin Cho / Reporter, Seoul Economic Daily