Families in art | Inquirer Business

Families in art

/ 05:30 AM November 24, 2017

Family enterprises in the world of art are not as well-known as their counterparts in retail, manufacturing and service.

Some wealthy families have children who are interested in art. Some manage a museum as part of the clan foundation; others put up photo or painting exhibits bankrolled by family funds.


But in Seoul, South Korea, Kukje Gallery is a formal family enterprise.

Hyun-Sook Lee, who founded it in 1982, was not trained in art, though she had long been drawn to music, film, paintings. Her husband, a businessman, indulged her habit of collecting art pieces.


That hobby eventually became an enterprise. Lee already knew most of the local artists, and in the 1980s, when the South Korea economy was booming, she traveled to seek out other artworks.

Training happened by osmosis. Eldest child, Tina Kim, tells Business Times Weekend: “We could never walk a straight line on Bond Street in London. [My mother] would want to walk into every store and look at what’s new in fashion … In a museum, she has to see every single artwork. She refuses to skip a single section.”

All three children were groomed for the job. Tina, Suzie and Charles studied either in the United Kingdom and the United States to ensure fluency in English and knowledge in Western art, culture and society.

As a teen, Tina would help her mother by translating Korean to English, or the reverse depending on the artists they visited.

For a family business to endure, more expertise and trainings are essential. Many tycoons today barely finished school but they required their children to take MBAs in global institutions.

Thus, Tina took a master’s degree in Arts Administration at New York University. She then worked for Sotheby’s, Paul Cooper Gallery and the Whitney Museum of American Art before opening her own gallery in New York.

To make sure the siblings worked effectively together, Lee says, “It’s important to know what your kids are good at, and then have them take on the roles they’re naturally gifted in. Charles … is good with numbers so I have him in charge of the accounts. Tina … has been by my side for a long time looking at art, so we’ve developed similar tastes and instincts.”


Suzie is the director of Kukje Gallery, while Charles’ wife is managing director. Tina is taking on her mother’s mission in reverse: introducing Korean and Asian art to the West.

“I learned so very much from [her]. But I’ve also learned the importance of creating my own path and identity. Today, the art scene is changing so fast because of the multiplying channels of information. The biggest challenge for gallerists like us is to keep up with what the world is discussing.”

Chasing Paper

Mike Rees’ father worked in Kubin-Nicholson, a printing company in the Midwest, and bought out the owners, turning the enterprise into their family business. When the patriarch died, Mike and his brother ran the company, specializing in billboards. In 2010, Mike, already in his 60s, invited his daughter Elizabeth to join their Manhattan office.

Elizabeth tested the waters, but in 2013, she hit on a brainwave: to print innovative removable wallpaper.

She persuaded her father to diversify: the company printer sometimes sat idle, no new machinery or staff was needed, the margins were bigger.

The startup became a new division, but Elizabeth had to prove herself. Chasing Paper was judged by its own financial statements. This year the startup would likely make $1 million, still a tiny but growing fraction of the $15-million business.

Though no formal succession has been announced, Mike tells Inc. Magazine that his daughter might head the entire family business in the future.

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TAGS: family enterprises, manufacturing and service, world of art
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