Emerging Collector to Watch in Asia: Mac Lee

Private investments
Modern and contemporary Korean art; contemporary international art

Seoul-based Mac Lee comes from a family that has long collected antiquities, old Buddhist-related relics, and paintings. “The passion for collecting has been with me for a while,” he said. But he didn’t start out amassing holdings in contemporary art; instead, he began collecting fine wines. Three years ago, though, his interest turned to collecting art, and he reached out to the art advisory firm Schwartzman& “to help me create something special that I can share with the world,” he said. With the firm’s guidance, he “began delving further into [contemporary art] and collecting more seriously.”

Lee’s first impulse was to focus on Korean artists working in Seoul. He started out with a more art historical bent than many new collectors, homing in on the country’s famed Dansaekhwa movement. “My ambition was to start there and then move into contemporary artists that continue its lineage,” he said. “What I like about Dansaekhwa is its focus on gesture, repetition, Zen, its ties to Buddhism, and the feelings and emotions the works elicit. It felt like a meaningful connection to my and my family’s past and is so closely associated with the national identity of Korea.”

Joe Brainard: Garden III, 1969.

Courtesy Mac Lee

Among his first purchases was a painting by Yun Hyong-keun, known for inky monochromes that bleed out toward areas of raw canvas. From there he expanded to Mary Corse and other Light and Space artists (whose works Lee connects with Dansaekhwa) as well as international abstractionists like Joe Brainard, Maki Na Kamura, and Zeinab Saleh.

Lee’s collection is evolving and ever-growing; he buys around 20 works a year. It starts with “an initial gut reaction” followed by deep research into artists and how they might fit into the collection as a whole. Recent purchases like a painting by Laura Owens have led him to think about works that blur the lines between figuration and abstraction, while two paintings by emerging artist Rachel Jones “showed me how I can move away from Dansaekhwa and pure abstraction into abstraction that is tied to figuration and begin a new collecting path.” Among the artists he has followed along those lines are Issy Wood, Robert Rauschenberg, Anna Park, Sable Elyse Smith, and Cindy Ji Hye Kim.

A frequent traveler on the global fair circuit, Lee said his interactions with other collectors have been “a good lesson in how to become a better collector. I am learning how to edit and discern what is worthwhile and additive to the collection, as it can be an overwhelming experience.”

A version of this article appears in the 2023 ARTnews Top 200 Collectors issue.

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