Art pieces seized from ex-President Chun auctioned off

SEOUL, Dec. 12 (Yonhap) -- Scores of art pieces confiscated from former President Chun Doo-hwan have all been sold in an auction in Seoul amid keen public interest, a local auction house said.

On the block were 80 out of some 600 pieces that the prosecution seized during their search of homes and offices of the family members in July in an effort to collect his ill-gotten wealth. The items fetched a combined 2.57 billion won (US$2.43 million), higher than an initial estimate of 2 billion won, K-Auction said.

Wednesday's auction was the first of a series of auctions scheduled to be held till March of next year. K-Auction was commissioned by the prosecution to auction half of the seized items and the remainder went to Seoul Auction.

Chun, who seized power in a military coup in 1979, was ordered by the Supreme Court in 1997 to return to state coffers some 220 billion won he had accumulated illegally while in office from 1980 to 1988. Chun had refused to make most of the payment, claiming he was almost penniless.

However, under growing public criticism, the family announced in September that they would return 170.3 billion won in family assets to the state to pay the fines.

Reflecting the keen public interest in the confiscated artworks, long lines of about 400 people, including art collectors and journalists, were formed in front of K-Auction, one of the country's two largest auction houses, even one hour before the start of the sale.

Drawing the most attention during Wednesday's auction was a 1965 oil painting by the late, legendary Korean artist Kim Hwan-ki. The painting, "24-Ⅷ-65 South East," was sold for 550 million won, the highest amount among all items from the Chun family collection sold that day.

The final price, however, was far lower than expected as the work was generally expected to fetch up to 800 million won.

"It's a pity the bidding price did not go up further," said Lee Sang-gyu, the head of K-Auction. "I think people must have felt much burden about buying expensive paintings."

In the following session, people bustled here and there when the bidding price jumped to 100 million won by a written bidder. The painting, also by Kim, was eventually sold for 115 million won.

People, however, ebbed away from the venue after the auctioning of Kim's masterpieces was over, showing that his work was the focus of the public's attention.

Some items were sold at a price about 10 times higher than originally expected.

The beginning price of a calligraphic work by the former President Kim Dae-jung that Chun's eldest son Jae-kuk received as a wedding present was 1.6 million won. It eventually was auctioned off at 23 million won after a fierce competition among bidders.

Another calligraphic work by the former President Kim and a calligraphic piece by the former President Chun were sold at prices five to 10 times higher than initially expected.

The auction house said it marks the first time in its history that items up for sale in a themed auction have been 100 percent sold.

The local fine arts world expressed hope that the success of the Chun family collection would help revitalize the lackluster local art market.

"We expect this auction to give the local art market a much-needed shot in the arm down the road," Lee said.

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