“Happy Tears” by Roy Lichtenstein
By Kim Rahn
``Happy Tears,'' a piece by American artist Roy Lichtenstein, has suddenly become the center of attention among Koreans, as a claim emerged that Samsung Group Chairman Lee Kun-hee's wife bought it with money from the group's slush fund.
However, with Samsung denying the claim, the whereabouts of the painting is also the talk of the town.
Lichtenstein is one of the world's most famous pop artists. Born in New York, he used scenes from comic books and even speech bubbles, breaking down the boundaries between art and daily life.
The 38-by-38-inch piece painted in 1964 features a woman smiling and crying with joy.
In 2002, the painting was sold at a Christie's auction in New York for $7,159,500, about 6.6 billion won, breaking Lichtenstein's former auction record of $6.05 million.
According to Kim Yong-chul, the former director of Samsung's legal department, it was the group chairman's wife Hong Ra-hee who bought the painting.
He claimed Monday that Hong and other Samsung-related figures purchased artworks with money from the group's slush fund between January 2002 and September 2003.
Hong had the group pay money for ``Happy Tears'' to Seomi Gallery in Seoul, and the gallery director Hong Song-won bought it at Christie's and handed it over to the chairman's wife, according to Kim. Hong is the director of the Leeum Samsung Museum of Art, but the piece was for her self, Kim said.
Kim said he heard Lee's son Jae-yong saying that the painting was hung at his father's home.
Regarding the claim, Samsung first said Hong bought it with her own money. But hours later, it said that the gallery director recommended Hong to buy it. She hung it at her home for a few days, but later returned it to the gallery.
The gallery director admitted having bought the artwork at the auction but claimed she resold it to another individual art collector.
Leeum also said it does not have the piece in question. But workers there refused to disclose the list of pieces the museum has in its possession.
It is said the Seomi Gallery director has taken charge of art piece purchasing for Samsung since the 1990s and has strong networks with high-ranking business figures.
Late Monday night the gallery head's family was seen leaving the gallery building, where their residence is situated, carrying five trunks in their cars. She is currently incommunicado.