In view of the economic situation, Sotheby’s has cancelled the sale of Korean art planned for this month and probably the September sale also. Since these auctions began in 1991, they have sold Korean goods worth over $200 million, but the sale in November 1997, one month after the economic crisis began, was 62% bought in. With the won at 1,600 to the dollar as against 800 in October 1997, and the major buyers of Korean art all Koreans repatriating their heritage, this cancellation seems sensible.
The Chosun daily newspaper of 13 February reported that Tracy Williams of Sotheby’s twentieth-century art department was in Seoul because “she had never been there before”. But she did go on to say that painters such as Warhol, Calder, de Kooning and Twombly were selling very well in the US at present and that if any Korean collectors possessed such works, Sotheby’s would welcome their enquiries. She added that their catalogues were distributed to 6,000 collectors world-wide, so that it was better to sell through them than privately. Korea has a tradition of being the Far Eastern country with the most interest in Western contemporary art, so Ms Williams’s prospecting tour may well bear fruit.