Self-made millionaire's passion for art

Self-made millionaire's passion for art

KOREA - As a collector, artist and businessman, Kim Chang-il, president of Arario Group, has for decades run his own company while following his passion for art.

This year, the self-made multimillionaire opened four new private museums in Korea to display part of the collection he has assembled over the past 35 years.

For Kim, who launched his business in a humble cafeteria inside a bus terminal, galleries are a part of his longtime dream. Art, for him, is also a way to relieve stress and help others relax.

"Sometimes I faced extreme financial difficulties that could have stopped me in my tracks, and now I would like to enter a 'dream world' that can be expressed through art," Kim wrote on the official website of the newly launched Arario Museum in Space.

Kim became a millionaire at the relatively young age of 30, which was when he made enough money to buy the entire bus terminal his cafeteria was located in. His business soon included a department store and cinema in Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province.

Yawoori Department Store makes profits of around 350 billion won (S$416.5 million) a year and Yawoori Cinema ranked ninth in terms of number of visitors among 314 theatres nationwide in 2012, according to the Korea Film Council.

When his bus terminal business reached a plateau, Kim began to take an interest in art and so far has purchased some 3,700 pieces of art from galleries around the world.

As a natural businessman, he showed his prowess not only through collecting artworks but also through purchasing land for his galleries.

Starting from his hometown of Cheonan in 2002, he has launched five Arario galleries in Korea and overseas. He withdrew from New York and Beijing, and is currently running galleries in Seoul, Shanghai and Cheonan.

His ambition did not stop there. In September, he opened a private museum named Arario Museum in Space in Seoul after remodeling a building that had been used as the headquarters of the architecture firm Space.

Along with the Seoul museum, he opened three more Arario museums on Jejudo Island in October.

Over the last three years, he has bought more than 13 buildings, most of them located near his museums, with the aim of making a cultural complex in the area comprised of cafes and restaurants.

Although the 63-year-old business guru has become one the world's most powerful collectors and is recognised by prestigious foreign art magazines, he has also faced criticism and been described as an obsessive collector by critics because he often purchases all the exhibited artworks at a gallery at one time.

He also came under attack after the opening ceremony for Seoul's Arario Museum in Space in September, when he exhibited his own work with his collection, which mainly focused on renowned contemporary artists such as Barbara Kruger and Keith Haring.

"Life is art and art is life. In that sense, as the person who built this museum I wanted to share a glimpse of my world with the audience (through the artworks)," he said, referring to the attacks against him.

amigo@heraldcorp.com, hnpark@heraldcorp.com

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