3 Gifts for British Veterans of the Korean War -III

Written by on February 4, 2011 in Special Report
*  This is the third in a three-part series on the Three Gifts for British Veterans of the Korean War. 

The Third Gift – Charity Auction

After the month long exhibition, the artists’ contributed artwork was planned to be sold through a charity auction with all profits going to the British Korean Veterans Association. The exhibition was prepared meticulously for about 3 months from mid-July, 2010. At the early stage, however, the main focus was on the exhibition and postcards, with the charity auction receiving little attention. The success of a charity auction was uncertain as its concept was somewhat unfamiliar. There were numerous doubts: who will participate, where it will take place, who will manage the raised funds, how much attention will it get, will it lead to actual sales. We were told not to have great expectations.

I contacted auction houses such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s as if I was “diving into dry land”. It was a surprise that Sotheby’s contacted us immediately. They proposed to hold the auction without commission considering the auction’s good intentions. Furthermore, Lord Harry Dalmeny, the vice president of the firm, offered to direct the auction. It was encouraging. Even an art auction novice would know that Sotheby’s is a world renowned auction; the name value of Sotheby’s would give the auction public recognition and authority.

The joining of Sotheby’s solidified the preparation for the auction as it got on track. Nevertheless, since it was still our responsibility to actually prepare and carry out the auction, we had to face and solve various complicated problems on the way. One problem seemed to bring upon another, and I sometimes told Seung-min Kim, the curator of this center, “I wouldn’t have started this auction if I had known how difficult it would be…” But I usually would end the conversation with, “Since we started this, let’s make it a success.”

We worked with the Royal British Legion as an organizing partner to overcome difficulties we encountered during the preparation process. Despite the auction’s good purpose, given that it was related to sales of works of art, there were a lot of obstacles such as the issue of taxes. According to pertaining laws, only accredited charity organizations can make profit from auctions to be exempted from taxation. However, neither the British Korean Cultural Centre nor the British Korean Veterans Association meets the conditions to become an accredited charity organization. After considering various alternatives, we contacted the Royal British Legion and made a partnership.

40 works of art were exhibited as a preview auction at the Centre’s gallery for a week from Monday, October 4, 2010. Then the auction was conducted twice on Friday evening, October 8, and Monday evening, October 11. The first half was held as a silent auction to promote the auction and encourage people to participate after a simple registration process. 18 art pieces (15 pieces were initially planned but 3 were added with the same prices) which recorded the highest bids were auctioned again at the second half’s live auction by Sotheby’s.

Congratulations by Mishal Husain, an anchor at BBC, and Larry Leba, a war veteran, during the first half of the auction.

Mishal Husain, an anchor at BBC, hosted the first half. When we contacted her agent, the agent demanded more than 6,000 pounds. Then the Centre’s curator directly called her and mentioned that the auction was for charity. We suggested only 500 pounds as a symbolic gesture and she graciously accepted the offer. Her decision to help us might have been based on her having once given a report on the exhibition, but our efforts in maintaining official and personal ties with her have helped as well.

For example, the Centre’s curator and his wife participated in a charity auction organized by Husain on September 8, to help Pakistani flood victims.

During the auction

During the auction

Only 90 invited guests participated in the second half. Lord Harry Dalmeny, the vice president of Sotheby’s, directly hosted the live auction. All the 40 paintings were sold including ‘Bird’ by Yeong-jin Choi, which recorded the highest bid. The total profit reached approximately 20,180 pounds. It was definitely successful.

The many volunteers made the charity auction a success. Jeong-min Kim, a violinist at London’s Philharmonic Orchestra, played the violin commission-free. Je-seong Baak produced gratis a special movie that touched every participant.

The charity auction is going to be covered in the November editions of Art Monthly, Eastern Art Report, and DIPLOMAT.

Capturing Two Hares at Once – Charity Auction, Globalization of Korean Food

During the preparation for the charity auction, one of the concerns was how to conduct the reception. We considered it appropriate to provide canapés during the standing reception in the first half, where it was free attendance. The second half with the live auction was more worrisome because it was designated for 90 invitation only VIP guests. In consideration of their social status and the long time required for the live auction, it was suggested that a dinner would be appropriate to enhance the atmosphere.

Dinner with Korean food

Dinner with Korean food

After careful consideration, we decided to provide a formal traditional Korean dinner before the live auction. The plan had two purposes like capturing two hares at once: a better charity auction and a chance to promote the globalization of Korean food. We thought it would be a great opportunity to properly introduce and promote Korean haute cuisine considering the social status of the VIP guests who were apt to be interested in the cultural arts and whose influence would be substantial.

The dinner event was successful thanks to much support from the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism (the Korean Overseas Information Service); the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; the Korean Food Association; and Seon-yeong Kang, the representative of URBY Organic International.

Korean recipe book

Korean recipe book

Five chefs from the Intercontinental Hotel in Korea creatively cooked Korean traditional food such as japchae, mandu-guk (dumpling soup), bibimbap, bulgogi, and omija tea. In an effort to gain interest in the globalization of Korean food, the Australian head chef Paul Schenk directly introduced the dinner menu and food to help the British guests understand Korean cuisine. The guests’ interest was heightened when it was explained that the eight-course dinner was the same as the G20 Summit gala dinner that was to be held in November, 2010. In a sense it was also a sort of indirect promotion for the summit. After the live auction, 100 limited edition Korean recipe books written in English with photos by the famous photographer Joon Choi were distributed to the guests. These books received good responses.

The eight-course dinner was based on the theme “Ingredients from Nature”.

The eight-course dinner was based on the theme “Ingredients from Nature”.

Hidden Ambition – Promotion of Korean modern art

The main purpose of this event was to thank British war veterans who fought for South Korea during the Korean War while celebrating its 60th anniversary. In addition, promotion of the globalization of Korean food was also aimed by providing a formal Korean dinner during the auction to influential Britain guests.

However, there was another essential, ambitious purpose in the background: to promote Korean modern art in the United Kingdom. I believe it is like killing two birds with one stone, that socially influential people who buy Korean works of art consequently become more and more interested in Korean art. To increase the number of people who buy Korean art was the hidden aim of the Centre’s event. I dream of British enthusiasts for Korean art reaching 100 in the short-term and 1,000 in the long-run.

There is mounting interest in Korean art in the UK. For instance, the Saatchi Gallery announced that art by Korean artists would be put on display throughout the gallery during the London Olympics. In this regard, I think Korean works of art will receive much attention and be highlighted here in the near future. The Korean Cultural Centre UK, in line with the trend, is going to annually hold the ‘Korean Artists Exhibition in Britain’ and support the ‘4482 Exhibition’ which is led by young Korean artists in the UK in order to help the activities of Korean artists.

Remaining Dreams

Despite the success of the various new projects, all the personnel at the Korean Cultural Centre UK and I have more dreams. Although this is not within our authority, as both an official of the Republic of Korea and as a Korean citizen, I would like to suggest the following:

I would like to apologize to all of the employees who work overtime everyday by saying that you can relax because there will not be any extra workload due to this proposal.

First of all, gathering and recording data of the Korean War from the 80 year old and older veterans, including their verbal testimonies. Cooperation with a broadcasting station may result in a possible documentary film.

Secondly, even though the UK is the second ranking nation to send military troops during the Korean War, there is no monument or mourning grounds for the soldiers who died in combat. An effort might be expected from the British Korean Veterans Association to raise funds and choose a location for the monument, but it is doubtful to rely on old veterans mostly 80 years or older who barely make a living. It would be meaningful to use the funds of 20,000 pounds raised by the Korean Cultural Centre UK’s charity auction as seed money for such projects.

My fellow employees and I of the Korean Cultural Centre UK are very enthusiastic about work. As there are many projects in progress, such as basic building management and accounting, it is sometimes not easy with just the six employees. It’s probably a delight-disguised-as-a-concern for the head of the Centre to contemplate stopping the employees from carrying out more projects due to their enthusiastic work ethic, isn’t it?

The Korean Cultural Festival of September, 2010’s Thames Festival, has ended. However, various events including the 5th London Korean Film Festival are scheduled to be held in November, while three Korean performance teams will be participating in the 2011 Edinburgh International Festival. The Centre’s officials are always full of suggestions but most of them have not been implemented (such as an idea of covering and filling a bridge over the Thames with Korean culture). When can these ideas be shown? What if we just do it with a bang?

The London Korean Film Festival at Barbican Center (2010)

The London Korean Film Festival at Barbican Center (2010)

By Yong-Ki Won, Head of the Korean Cultural Centre UK

By Yong-Ki Won, Head of the Korean Cultural Centre UK

The 2012 London Olympics are highly anticipated. I am looking to the future 2 years while gradually making preparations. It won’t be easy but there will be a way. I always have told the officials “everything will be fine” whenever there were obstacles. When I visited the Scotland Art Museum during my official trip to Edinburgh in August, 2010, I found a phrase written in a work of art near the entrance: “Everything is going to be alright.” I wish that everything we plan and proceed with will be successful. From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank everyone including all the employees, the interns who helped us with passion and wisdom, and the supporters.

Thanks to the many people who really care about the Centre, it seems we will soon get a piano. I would like to express my gratitude for the efforts of Rep. Yun-seon Jo. The piano will pave way for holding small concerts showcasing Korean musicians. Just the thought of it makes my heart sing.

About the Author

Employees of both Korea.net and KOCIS write on the Korea Blog.