Gana Art Gallery marks 30 years of companionship with Korean arts Apr 25 2013
Gana Art Gallery looks back at times with artists with group exhibition of major artists

“Mr. Vincent” by Sa Suk-won (Gana Art Gallery)

The relationship between gallery and artist is not just about business.

Gallery owners discover new talents, support their careers and bring a fresh take on the art scene. Some relationships last a lifetime as they become friends and encourage each other, leading to better artworks.

For Lee Ho-jae, CEO of Seoul Auction, one of the major auction houses in Korea, his 30 years of serving as the owner of Gana Art Gallery and CEO of Seoul Auction have been about building such relationships.

“I don’t want to call it a business. I want to be remembered as a gallerist who was close to artists,” said Lee at a press conference on Wednesday, commemorating the 30th anniversary of Gana Art Gallery.

Lee opened Gana Art Gallery in 1973, and since then has supported many artists who have now become established figures not only in the local scene, but also in international art circles.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Gana Art Gallery and its journey with artists, the gallery is hosting a group exhibition of 50 well-known artists in Korea who were or have been part of the gallery’s history. They range from established artists such as Yoon Myung-ro and Bae Bien-u to mid-career persons such as Sa Suk-won, Park Yung-nam and fledglings Marie Kim and Jung Hae-yoon. It features their most recent works including paintings, sculptures and photographs.

“The relationship we have with artists is like a family,” said Lee, who has been with them since they were young and poor.

Asked what the gallery is like to them, Sa Suk-won, who attended the press conference with other close artists, said the gallery is a “matchmaker” to him.

“If I didn’t meet the gallery in 1988, I might have given up on art. I was seeing a lady that year and was able to get married because of the title I had as ‘artist of Gana Art Gallery,’” said Sa.

Sa said he came across Gana during his studies in Paris in 1985 at FIAC (International Fair of Contemporary Art), when it was the only Korean gallery attending the international art event. He sought help from the gallery when he was in a financial struggle after returning to Korea. Out of desperation, he took all of his works on a truck and visited Lee.

“I only had a one-way fee for the truck at the time. So if I didn’t get my artwork sold, I was going to dump everything in an alley in Insa-dong,” Sa said.

Fortunately for Sa, Lee bought all of his artworks and offered a sponsorship including monthly support of 500,000 won ($447). “It was the best moment of my life,” recalled Sa, who has now become one of the most popular artists in Korea.

Painter Park Yung-nam said Gana Art Gallery gave him a “blank check.”

“When he (Lee) visited me in 1982 during his first overseas business trip to New York, he suggested buying some of my works and offered some dollars. I wasn’t sure whether I should sell my works because it felt like I was selling off my works at a bargain. Lee said he was giving me the dollars he didn’t need anymore and offered me to finish the deal later,” said Park. “But I still haven’t given him back the artwork.”

Lee has been a quiet, yet reliable partner for Korean artists studying overseas.

“I met Lee in 1983 when I was studying in Carrara, Italy. Lee visited Korean students studying sculpture. He offered everything he had on his trip, even sent money to us. It was a great help back then,” said Han Jin-sub, a sculptor.

Asked why he helps young artists, Lee said: “It’s so much of an encouragement for young artists. They love when gallerists buy their works, even if they don’t make a lot of money. The deal itself motivates and encourages them to continue their work.”

Gana Art Gallery has expanded its sponsorship program for young artists to such an extent that it now runs a studio at Jangheung Atelier in Yangju, Gyeonggi Province, which is a residence for 60 artists.

Since its participation in the FIAC in 1985 and membership of the International Cite des Arts in 1996, a residency program that accommodates artists from all over the world, the gallery has been at the forefront of introducing Korean art to the international stage.

The exhibition “Contemporary Age” runs from April 26 to June 9 at Gana Art Gallery in Pyeongchang-dong, Seoul.

For more information, call (02) 720-1020.

By Lee Woo-young

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